Question: I have a 10-year-old boy that I just found out has kissed a girl and been texting things like “I love you” and claims he is going to kiss her again. I feel he is way too young. However, I am trying to find out if this is normal and whether I should prevent him from hanging out with this girl in the future?
Answer: You are right to question this type of romantic behavior at this early age, says Dr. Kristin Carothers, a psychologist with the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “It is age-appropriate for 10 year olds to be curious, but limits should be established for physical touch. Kissing and other behaviors are more developmentally appropriate behaviors for teenagers who are of dating age,” says Carothers.
Discussing age-appropriate affection
Here’s what Carothers recommends:
Have a talk
Parents can explain to younger adolescents that while it’s normal to feel affection, it’s too early to be expressing those feelings with intimate physical behavior, like kissing.
“It is normal to expect that children may have feelings that they deem are romantic love, even though expressing romantic love to a peer at this age is not appropriate,” says Carothers. In general, it’s helpful to tell younger adolescents that romantic behaviors are appropriate for teenagers of dating age (i.e. 16 or older) because they are more mature.
Help adolescents understand what is appropriate
Parents should always tell their children what behaviors they want them to engage in when identifying off limit behaviors, stresses Carothers.
“Sometimes we give explicit information about what not to do, but then fail to let kids know what they should do instead,” she says. “Giving children behaviors they should engage in, provides a unique teaching and learning opportunity.” For example, if the parent tells an adolescent that kissing is off limits, the parent should include what is allowed. In this case, that could include the young boy telling the girl the positive things he likes about her, why he appreciates her, or giving her a card or some special gift he has made for her.
“Parents can let young adolescents know that while they are too young for romantic kissing, they could write the person a poem or letter as long as it is developmentally appropriate,” adds Carothers.
It’s not to early to discuss consent
Engaging in romantic behaviors, like kissing, too early can also result in misunderstandings about appropriate types of touch, notes Carothers. “It is important to teach physical boundaries, and to ask permission before touching anyone,” she says, adding that “in this case, the girl’s parents and the girl may not be comfortable with his expressions and could see it as negative.”
In general, at this young age, physical touch should be avoided unless it’s a handshake or high five or an adolescent has asked (a girl or boy) permission to show her affection in that way.
Dr. Kristin J. Carothers is a clinical psychologist with Child Mind Institute in New York City.