by Deborah Gilboa
Do you remember what a crush feels like? That terrifying and exhilarating realization that a person you know has become the person you want to be near (at least for today)? Do you remember that tiny, goofy, uncontrollable smile you got on your face when you just thought about them? Crushing is a developmentally normal and yet extraordinary tween experience.
As a family doctor, I am in the awkward position of asking kids about crushes. Why would I do that? Well, this opens the door to those important sex talks that doctors should be having with teens. Also, crushes are often at the heart of real tween problems—early sexual exploration, exploitation, bullying, anxiety and depression.
It’s my job to gently broach this subject, without making the child feel uncomfortable, and to determine whether to continue the discussion or put it off for the next visit. I take a careful study of their facial expressions, body language and what they say or don’t say. Often, though, I can tell from their smile.
Parents are usually shocked by that smile. “What?!” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “You’re too young!” “What are you doing young man/lady?!” are just some of the reactions kids hear if they opt to discuss this with Mom or Dad in the room. I do my best to assure parents that these tween crushes are normal, healthy feelings that parents can’t control, coerce or legislate.
It’s a difficult lesson to learn, and one I had to learn with my own sons. They talked about girls; they always had. However their talk began to switch from, “Why do girls think talking is more fun than playing,” to discussing “dating” and “6 packs.” I didn’t get it at first; they were too young! But, the talk increased. They moved to debates about whether kissing was “awful!” or “Nuh-uh—awesome!” That woke me up, and then I saw it. The smile. Embarrassed and uncertain but determined at the same time.
And, I did what any self-respecting mom might do, I panicked. Thankfully, I was rescued, as we so often are, by a mom with older boys. “I love middle school crushes!” she told me. “These are the years, and the feelings, that you can influence. These are the only times your boys may listen to you about what to do with those feelings, about how to treat a girl, about what is okay and what isn’t in the land of love. Take advantage of it.”
Suddenly, I understood those parental reactions I’d been seeing for years. We don’t fear the feelings; we fear the path, the behaviors, the future, the consequences. Those feelings are so strong that they will take our children to decision-making without us. Use your influence while you can and talk (or text) with your child about these non-relationships. Equip your tween to make strong choices later. Your doctor can only help with the most extreme issues, the rest is up to you.
Parenting expert, Deborah Gilboa, M.D., aka “Dr. G,” is a family physician, international speaker, author, and TV personality. Her book, Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate, is available on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.