The 6th grade teacher could see it by the look on the girl’s face. There were the furtive glances at the boy in front of her and the whispers and giggles of her friends. The teacher knew that the girl was experiencing her first crush on a boy.
By middle school, many tweens begin to experience their first romantic crushes and the gossip that typically accompanies them. Crushes start developing as puberty begins and tweens are motivated to act in more grown up ways. One of the ways tweens can feel grown up is wanting a romantic relationship with someone else and finding their “true love”.
A crush is a mix of infatuation and idealization. It does not qualify as a true romantic and caring relationship that a tween might believe it is. Most crushes consist of tweens projecting their idealized values onto the students of their affection. For instance if a girl values being athletic and confident, then she might seek out a boy on the wrestling team. Since a crush can be more reflective of the admirer than the student of affection, crushes tend to be short-lived when the harsh light of reality does not match up with the idealized fantasy.
Although crushes are typically doomed from the start, they represent something real and significant for tweens while they are happening. Crushes are often the first real yearnings that tweens experience for sexual and romantic relationships with others. As such, a crush seems like “true love” along with all of the emotional highs and lows that come with being in love.
There are some gender differences regarding when crushes start and how they are treated. Girls typically start having crushes earlier since they tend to physically mature sooner than boys. They also talk to their friends more often about their crushes and possibly their mother too. Boys experience crushes later on though they typically don’t talk about their feelings with friends or parents due to a fear of being teased.
Parents can often be at a loss of how to deal with their tween when she begins to experience her first crush. Many parents are not prepared to think about their tween’s emerging sexuality. A mistake that is frequently made is responding to a tween’s crush by teasing or being dismissive of the whole relationship. While a crush in hindsight is trivial for parents, tweens do not have experience with any other type of romantic relationship so it can mean everything to them.
Rather, parents should take the crush seriously and strike a neutral tone with their tween if they become aware of the crush. An example would be if a child confides to a parent, “I think I like Sam,” a good response would be to simply ask, “What do you like about him?” The more general response is likely to elicit more conversation about it from the tween. The important point is to talk less and listen to what the tween has to say.
Tweens initial venture into exploring love through crushes is bound to have its share of awkward moments which can’t be avoided. There will be false starts, misunderstandings, sudden endings, and real growth. Parents can best help tweens through the process by being a sounding board, providing suggestions, celebrating high points, and providing a shoulder to cry on when needed.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on February 8, 2015