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Tweens and Romance? The Surprising Benefits of Middle School Crushes

Do you remember your first middle school crush? That terrifying and exhilarating realization that you wanted to be near that special person. Do you remember that tiny, goofy, uncontrollable smile you got on your face when you thought about your crush? Middle school romance is developmentally normal. And it’s an extraordinary experience.

As a family doctor, I ask kids about crushes. Why do I do that? Because asking the question opens the door to important sex talks that I want to have with my teen patients. Also, crushes are often at the heart of real tween problems—early sexual exploration, bullying, exploitation, anxiety and depression. It’s very important to discuss.

It’s my job to gently broach the subject without making the child feel uncomfortable.

Then I make a determination 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 if they stay in the exam room. “What?! Why didn’t you tell me? You’re too young!” I do my best to assure parents that these crushes are a normal step in middle school development. These are 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.

Now’s the time to use your influence on middle school romance while you still can.

Talk (or text) with your child about these crush 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.

Deborah Gilboa, M.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. G”), is a family physician and author of Get the Behavior Your Want  . . . Without Being the Parent You Hate. Follow her on Twitter @AskDocG or learn more at

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