To date or not to date: That is the question

When I was in junior high, the slightest glance from the opposite sex made me want to become invisible.

All that changed the night of my eighth-grade graduation party - the first such boy-girl event I had attended. There I met my first boyfriend, an "older man," 15 years old to my 13.

I went from a shy girl who spent weekends at home to a full-fledged, boy-crazy teenager who spent Saturday nights dating. That first relationship was short, but it changed my life: I crossed over from nondater to dater. With no forethought or preparation, I was suddenly having to make judgments about whom to date and how to deal with a host of other boy-girl issues.

Thirty-plus years after graduating from eighth grade, I now have the dubious task of mothering a 13-year-old. Watching my son forge his way through what the school system now calls middle school, I kept my misgivings about junior high to myself and allowed him to experience this phase in his life without my prejudices.

This month my son graduates from eighth grade, and I'm panicking. My eighth-grade graduation party keeps replaying in my mind. I know my son is not me, but what if he follows my pattern and crosses the dating line this summer?

So far he has shown no interest in dating. In part because he, like me at that age, has not gained admittance into the inner clique. Boys with girlfriends hang out at one end of the cafeteria, he and his friends are at the other end. While I know being on the other side of popular is not easy, I believe he is better off not dating until he is older.

Fortunately, my husband, who didn't date until mid-high school, agrees.

Generally speaking, he and I are not overly controlling parents. But there are many potholes on the dating road. Physical changes and conflicting emotions mix with a lack of life experience. Even kids raised with strong values can easily cross the center line and run into trouble.

In my parents' household, rules were laid down for everything - except dating. I'm not sure if my parents were too embarrassed to talk about boy-girl relationships or if it just didn't dawn on them that I needed help.

Through the years, I've tried to give my son information I didn't receive. Those conversations still didn't stop a fierce debate about whether to let my son date or not. The argument in my head went back and forth like this: "Ban dating." "Let him live his life." "I am the parent, and I say no dating." Wham. Slam. On and on.

I couldn't help questioning my motive. Was I basing today's decision on my behavior 30 years ago? Or was I seeing my son clearly and making a choice based on his best interests?

While I may never fully understand my true motives, I did end the debate.

Jointly, my husband and I decided our son would not be allowed to date until high school. This gives him one more summer of childhood and allows his dad and me more time to reinforce the foundation of trust we've built with him. We'll do things like watch boy-girl movies together and talk about how the characters treated each other, what choices they made, and how they could have made better ones.

I know dating is a normal part of growing up, but I also know people do things without knowing the full consequences of their actions.

With a little guidance, I am hoping our son can circumvent a few of life's bumps.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an

e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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