The age in which tweens develop romantic interests in other people varies tremendously from child to child. Some kids may start expressing interest in having a boyfriend or girlfriend as early as age 10 while others are 12 or 13 before they show any interest.
The key is for parents to remember that the tween years are a time of transition. Not only are they maturing physically, emotionally, and socially but they also are starting to develop a sense of self. So, as your tween begins to explore what that means for them, it's only natural that an interest in dating would start to emerge as well.
That said, try not to be overwhelmed by your tween's budding interest in dating. In most cases, "dating" doesn't mean what you think it does. Additionally, your tween's love interests aren't likely to last too long as they discover what they like and don't like.
Still, you may be wondering how to navigate this new terrain. From those first love interests to those first breakups, here's everything you need to know about tween dating.
How Young is Too Young to Date?
Kids will reach the maturity level for dating at different ages. During puberty, tweens or teens may develop romantic interests. But, they also face peer pressure and may want to date as a way to prove themselves to their peers, rather than for their own interests. Try to judge your child's unique point in development when deciding whether to allow them to date.
When it comes to tween dating, it's helpful to begin by defining what tween dating is as well as what age they start to date. According to the the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), girls generally begin dating as early 12 and a half and boys typically begin dating by 13 and a half but they stress that it's not in the way most parents might imagine.
Instead of pairing off individually like teenagers do, most tweens engage in group dating, which means they go out as a group to the movies, the mall, the park, the beach, or other similar places. It's also important not to confuse group dating with double-dating or triple-dating, the AAP says. With group dating, there may be one or two romantic couples, but the majority of the group is unattached.
Group dates allow kids to interact with friends of both sexes in a safe way without the awkwardness or pressure of hooking up that comes with one-on-one dating.
So, at what age can tweens or teens engage in one-on-one dating? As a general rule, the AAP advises that tweens stick to group dating and that one-on-one dating be reserved for teens at least 16 years old.
Of course, as a parent, you will have to consider your child's maturity level. Some teens might be mature and responsible enough to handle dating a little sooner while others might need a little more time.
When Is the Appropriate Age to Start Dating?
How to Set Guidelines
If you have decided to allow your tween to date in groups, you need to be clear with them about your expectations. Talk about what constitutes appropriate behavior when they're out as well as where they are allowed to go and when they have to be home. Some parents even require that a parent be present in some capacity when kids go out in groups.
You also should consider meeting the parents of the other kids your tween is spending time with, especially if the group is planning to hang out at a person's house rather than at a public place.
Also, try to determine how your child's significant other treats them and be sure you are consistently talking about what constitutes a healthy friendship. Ask open-ended questions such as what they like about the person or what they have in common.
Keep in mind, too, that tween romantic relationships are often expressed entirely (or almost entirely) through texting and social media.
Tweens may text each other far more than they talk or meet in person, and they may use social media posts to proclaim their relationship status. Make sure your child knows what is safe and appropriate to communicate via text and to post on social media, especially when it comes to sharing personal information.
Smartphone rules and etiquette also need to be a constant topic of discussion when it comes to romantic relationships and other friendships. The key is that you are regularly communicating with your child about their relationships while offering guidance and direction along the way.
How to Use a Social Media Contract With Your Tween
Should You Be Concerned?
The first time you hear your tween mention that they are "dating" someone, can be a little unnerving, but developing a romantic interest in another person is a normal part of growing up.
During the tween years, your child is going through a lot of changes. Aside from going through puberty, they may develop new interests, change their style of dress, and even start hanging out with new friends.
Unless you notice warning signs for unhealthy behaviors, you generally have nothing to worry about. Your tween's identity is being shaped during this timeframe and they may try out different things until they discover who they are. For this reason, many tween dating relationships are superficial in the beginning as they discover who they are.
Tweens tend to pick their boyfriend or girlfriend based on the person's looks, clothes, and/or social status.
And, if you 12-year-old or 13-year-old has no interest in dating, don't worry. There is no rush when it comes to the dating world. Their lack of interest doesn't mean you shouldn't still have meaningful conversations about dating, though.
Talk to them about what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to conduct themselves online and when out with friends. These talks allow you to build a framework for when they are ready to start dating.
Partnering With Your Tween
The cornerstone of any healthy parent-child relationship is communication. So, as uncomfortable as it might be, it's important to have regular conversations with your tween about the big issues regarding dating—even if your tween balks at the idea.
By keeping the lines of communication open and being careful not be judgmental of your their love interests, your tween is more apt to talk to you about their feelingsor ask for advice.
It's also important that tweens feel empowered with information that helps them set boundaries, expectations, and limits on themselves and the person they are dating. Stay involved by sharing your first dating experiences, and role play if your tween feels up to it. It's important that they build confidence about dating in these early years so that they are not swayed by misinformation.
Also, be sure they have contingency plans should the group date not go as planned. They need to know what to do if they are in danger or don't like what the group is doing. By partnering with your tween every step of the way when they start dating, you will be able to guide them from their first love to their last.
What to Avoid
While it's normal to be caught off guard by your tween's sudden interest in dating, you need to be sure that you are taking it seriously and use it as an opportunity to talk about key issues associated with dating responsibly.
Even if you are freaking out somewhat, choose your words carefully. You want to avoid saying something you might later regret. For instance, you should avoid labeling their relationship in some way like calling it an "infatuation," "puppy love," or "young love."
To a tween, this budding relationship is significant. So, you don't want to downplay it or inadvertently make fun of it in some way.
You also should avoid teasing your tween or making negative remarks about who they are dating. Other things to avoid include:
- Assuming the relationship is not serious
- Allowing too much freedom and not establishing ground rules for safe dating
- Allowing your tween to spend time one-on-one unsupervised
- Brushing off the dating relationship an unimportant
- Failing to discuss the risks of teen dating violence and digital dating abuse
- Forgetting to talk about the big issues like sexting, consent, and even sex
- Neglecting to describe what healthy relationships look like
- Pretending like the relationship doesn't exist or that your tween is not growing up
What to Do When You Dislike Your Tween's Date
How to Handle Breakups
Although the majority of tween relationships won't last long, some tween romances do have staying power. One study found that 20% of 12- to 14-year-olds had a relationship that lasted at least 11 months.
Given how fast tweens' lives are changing, 11 months is certainly a significant period of time. That said, though, relationships among tweens are likely to be more superficial than later relationships and may not have enough substance to last much longer.
Consequently, at some point you're going to have to know how to help your tween navigate a breakup, especially because their first experience with a broken heart can take them by surprise. One minute they are on cloud nine believing they found their soul mate and the next they find themselves picking up the pieces of their broken heart.
If your child is dealing with a breakup, it's important that you listen more than you speak and that you validate what they're feeling.
Nothing's worse for a tween than experiencing heartache, only to have a parent minimize their feelings or to tell them that it wasn't a big deal. To them, this experience feels monumental.
Instead, take this opportunity to teach them how to manage these uncomfortable feelings in a healthy and responsible way—especially when it comes to social media. Too many times, tweens will turn to social media during a breakup to share their feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, or sadness, all of which can end up hurting them even more if kids use these raw feelings to cyberbully or make fun of them.
Talk to them about healthy ways to cope with disappointment, rejection, and pain like journaling, talking with people they are close to, and doing things they enjoy. And, if your tween was the one doing the breaking up, it's equally as important that you be supportive.
Find ways to help your tween refocus their attention and not dwell on the breakup. It's common for tweens get stuck in a rut thinking about what went wrong and what they could have done differently. While reflection is an important part of breaking up, ruminating for long periods of time can become unhealthy.
Talk to your tween about refocusing their energy in more productive ways like spending a day doing something fun with friends or taking up a new hobby.
And finally, be patient and avoid saying anything negative about their former boyfriend or girlfriend. Some tweens will move on pretty easily after a breakup, but some will need a little more time to process what happened and for their broken heart to mend. Be kind, caring, supportive, and positive and your tween will get through it.
How to Help Your Child Get Over Heartache
A Word From Verywell
While it's normal to feel overwhelmed or even uncertain about your tween dating, it's important not to allow these feelings govern your response. Instead, consider your child's maturity level and determine what they can handle and when. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to tween dating. So, ultimately you will need to decide what is best given your child's temperament.
If you decide that you are okay with your tween dating in a group setting, make sure you set some ground rules and communicate those clearly and effectively. You also want to be sure you are having regular conversations about safe and responsible dating as well as all the factors involved in a tween dating relationship like texting and social media use. By educating your teen on the ins and outs of dating, you will set them up for success in the future.
When Is the Appropriate Age to Start Dating?