Why Do We Have Middle School Dances Again?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I tackle the ridiculousness of middle school dances.
Middle School Dances are Ridiculous on so many levels. Read on...

Love is the Air.

Drug stores are selling boxloads of cards so that 8-year-olds can tell all 23 kids in their class, “You’re special!” Flyers are reminding men that they had better show up with a gift. Engagement rings are selling like hotcakes.

Yet perhaps love shouldn’t be in the air for everyone.

When it comes to middle schoolers, for instance, love is definitely better off waiting.

In fact, a study reported in USA Today found that the age that kids start dating is highly correlated to the age at which they first have intercourse. Ninety-one percent of kids who started dating at 12 had had sex by high school graduation, compared with just 20% of kids who started dating at age 16. Delaying pairing off pays off. And a huge 2012 University of Texas study found that delaying sex until your twenties meant better romantic relationships later. People who wait for both dating and sex tend to end up happier.

It’s not just happiness, though, that improves if you wait. It’s also academic achievement. Kids who remain virgins throughout high school are one third as likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate college. Other important findings: kids who remain virgins in high school are less than half as likely to suffer from depression and less than half as likely to go on welfare as adults.

If you want a society with predominantly productive citizens in stable relationships, then, we’ll want to encourage kids to wait to have sex, which includes encouraging them to wait to date. Whether you’re looking at it from an economic standpoint, a moral standpoint, or a public health standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to encourage kids to date at early ages.

All of this leads me to ask: why on earth, then, do we have middle school dances, all put on by our Boards of Education?

Are we out of our collective minds? We’re taking kids as young as grade 6 and holding dances during school hours. Why encourage kids that young to pair off?

I got my first “boyfriend” because of a middle school dance in grade 7. I’d never even thought of dating him before, but he asked me to dance, and all of a sudden we were “going out”. Looking back it was embarrassing, but then all I felt was pressure. All the girls were wondering, “is anyone going to dance with me?” And all the boys were wondering what the girls would wear. Kids who had never thought of “asking someone out” suddenly got fixated on it.

Ask a school principal and they’ll likely say they only hold these middle school dances because parents insist on it, and that’s probably true.

Too many parents think “it’s so cute” when little Jenny has a boyfriend at ten.

But even if this starts out as clean fun, the younger kids start to date, the more they’ll experiment as they age. Do you really want your child going down that road?

Maybe some parents want middle school dances, and likely a lot of the kids do, too. But that doesn’t mean other parents have to stand for it. You could suggest a square dance caller instead. You could offer to host a party with hula hoop contests and limbo contests instead of a traditional dance. You could pick up your kids early and take them home that day. Or better still, you could ask at the next PTA meeting “what advantage are we getting from asking 12 and 13-year-olds to pair up?” Because unless you can tell me the benefit, I’ll never believe that it will outweigh the potential harm.

The Talk(s)Do you want to open up conversation with your child about dating? I’ve got a great resource–Barrett Johnson’s book “The Talk(s)”, about how to keep those conversations regular and natural. Get the ebook or get it in paperback. It’s the best book of its kind that I’ve seen!

Have your kids attended middle school dances? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Well said! The mindset of pairing young kids up via dances was questionable enough even in the early 1960s (a recurring theme that reflected the day on “Leave it to Beaver” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0630199/) but at least back then there was a greater sense of morality without a highly-sexualized culture to make it even worse.

  2. Hear, hear! It is a lonely place indeed to be the sole voice of reason amidst these parents who see no harm but lots of cuteness in early romance. “Oh, what’s the harm?” “Stop being such a prude!”
    Just because they can’t see the danger signs, however, is no reason to stop ringing the warning bell.
    Although you may not be popular standing up for your beliefs, you are doing the right thing. One day, too, your children will understand and appreciate the importance of doing what is right, even when it isn’t easy, comfortable or convenient.
    Kim recently posted…Leaving a legacy of loveMy Profile

  3. I remember middle school dances as very awkward. I didn’t want to dance, didn’t want to be there, and actually said “no” when someone asked me to dance.
    I was teased for refusing! There was even a little speech to the whole class from the teacher the next day, about the importance of saying ‘yes’ when someone has worked up the courage to ask.
    Really? What happened to free choice?

    My kids aren’t dating for years. The older two (13 and 11) have been told, jokingly, that they have to wait until they are 24. They pointed out that I was married at 21. The serious answer is that when they meet someone they think they want to date, to come to us and we will talk about what that might look like.

  4. Lisa Johnson says:

    My oldest daughter is in middle school and she is allowed to go to dances– that being said, she knows she’s not allowed to date until she’s 16, she goes to the dance with a group of girls and yes, they sometimes dance but most of the time I say “What did you do?” and she says “Kelsey and I talked about horses”, “Morgan is having a hard time with her parents divorce so all of us tried to make her laugh and give her a fun night”. It’s not just about the opposite sex. It’s about being social outside of school (their dances are held at night so if you don’t want your kid to go they don’t have to). It’s about feeling a little bit of freedom and learning to be responsible in a controlled setting. Dances are from 7-9 and from 7:30-9 the doors are locked, no one comes into or goes out of the gym. My kids go to a very small school (K-8 and only 270 students). The kids don’t just dance, they also play games to get the kids to interact in other ways and get to know each other better.

    As a teen/middle schooler I was not allowed to go to dances, was told I couldn’t date until 18 and yet I had a boyfriend at 13 and lost my virginity at 14. Granted, we had known each other since were seven years old, stayed together long after graduation, and eventually had 3 kids together (oldest at age 20), we still didn’t stay together… And things should have been very different. My girls are now growing up without their father for the most part as he’s chosen to live 20 mins away but never sees them. My husband is a great dad to them and they love each other unconditionally but the fact is, He’s not their dad. I have found that the quickest way to get someone to do something– especially a teenager– is to tell them they can’t… They will rebel and do exactly what you told them not to do. If they know they have a little freedom to learn and make mistakes, to express themselves and be heard they will be more likely to listen to YOU, when you want to be heard. I have found that by expressing my understanding of what they are going through and even using real life experiences (embarrassing as that is sometimes!) they realize that we have been there and we really do get it. My girls and I talk about EVERYTHING– sex, drugs, stealing, good and bad influences of friends, and because our lines of communication are open when I say that so-and-so might not be a good person to hang out with, they take it to heart. My oldest emailed me from school and said “_______ is smoking pot, what can I do to help her?” I suggested she go to the school guidance counselor and talk to her… She did and the girl and some other friends were really mad for a few days but then one of them said “Thank you, we wanted to help her but we didn’t know what to do and we didn’t want her to be mad at us so we said it was cool too”. I am so proud of her and our relationship knowing that she felt comfortable enough to come to me. I also know that if something changes in our relationship, she starts pulling away or something just isn’t “right”, then something is going on. If you don’t have that kind of relationship to begin with, how will you know if something has changed?”

    I absolutely think that for most kids, a school dance is probably not the best thing for them because they don’t have the support at home to know how to combat peer pressure and media pressure but in our town, most kids are respectful and the schools are very academics and arts focused so the kids are pushed to do their best. The school dress codes are very strict and strictly enforced so you don’t see kids wearing revealing clothes or extravagant make up.

    So, I guess to sum it up, what I’m trying to say is, I think if there’s the right guidance at home, at school and in the community dances can be a fun way for kids to get to know each other and learn some responsibility and self expression but without that support, they can be detrimental to a teenager’s self esteem and character.

  5. Great thoughts, Sheila! But don’t be too sure it’s really just the parents who want this. I suspect the principals and teachers do as well. At my son’s middle school, they seem to be fixated on sexuality. At the first parent preview night (before my son’s elementary years even ended), the staff spent much more time discussing the Gay-Straight Alliance club than anything academic or even sports-related. {I’m talking 75-80% of the meeting time} But, I don’t want my child to be discussing sexuality all the time. “Oh, it’s not about sex; it’s about celebrating our differences.” Um, okay. I like women. Some of my best friends are women. I even love some women. The only difference in that regard between me and my gay friends is that I don’t want to have sex with women. How is a gay-straight alliance NOT about sex? {My husband will be emailing you shortly to give you grief for getting me started… ;-)}
    Kendra Burrows recently posted…My HouseMy Profile

    • Ha! You sound like me, Kendra! And I hadn’t thought of that, but maybe you’re right. Many teachers do push the kids in that direction. Sigh.

  6. Christian-based homeschooling is sounding better and better all the time!

  7. Monica Harrison says:

    Do I agree?? It was the single moment that catapulted us into homeschooling our now family of 4 kids!! There of course was a build up of several other things before, but what put us into action of pulling our daughter out of school was the planning of a school dance during SCHOOL HOURS, that we were NEVER informed of by the school or asked to give permission for!!! Really? The school gets to decide our daughter can dance with boys and we don’t even have to give permission???? The only reason we found out was that she had talked about the dance in an email which she left open and my husband had seen!!

    We had a very long talk that day and pulled her out of school the very next day, which I might add she was thrilled about! We have enjoyed all the wonderful things of homeschool our children, starting with our middle schooler who graduated last year! We love to be the ones to decide how, when and at what age our children start dating and dancing!! For our oldest she is waiting on her husband and we couldn’t be more proud of her choices!

    Thanks for sharing your feelings and you are not alone!!

  8. I chaperoned a fair number of junior high dances, and the joke among teachers was that you knew a dance was a success when a bunch of girls were found crying in the girls bathroom. :o)

    • Lisa Johnson says:

      That is just wrong in so many ways… I am friends with a lot of my kid’s teachers outside of school and several even attend our church, l cannot even imagine ONE of them saying or thinking such a thing! Do you not remember being that age and how hurtful things were? Now imagine the adults you trust laughing at your pain and embarrassment.

  9. Wait! Before you get too scared that “if my kid starts dating/has sex before they’re 16, they’ll never go to college!!”, remember that in the study/studies cited, as in all studies, correlation does NOT equal causation. Graduation from high school and age of starting to date or have sex (or dance) might be correlated, but one probably does not cause the other. Not graduating from high school, I’ll bet, is not caused by having sex at an early age; rather, both those things are brought on by something else, like socioeconomic status, social class, or the values of the family or community in which a person is raised. An adolescent who chooses to have sex at an early age might come from a place where all available jobs don’t require a diploma, or where starting a family is valued higher than education. I personally graduated in the top 10% of my high school class, attained both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree by the age of 24, and didn’t start dating until I was almost 18. But I can tell you for sure that it wasn’t abstinence from dating that pushed me to educational achievement. Simply put, I was so focused on school that I just didn’t have time for boys…so you COULD say that educational achievement caused my abstinence. But I would hypothesize that the social class values (white, middle class, conservative, Protestant Christian) I was taught growing up that brought on both.

  10. Interesting article with an interesting perspective. I’m not a Christian, but I also believe that kids that young should not be dating.

    However, I don’t think middle school dances are an issue. Case in point, my mother actually encouraged me to attend my first school dance (when I started 7th grade) so that I’d have an idea of what teenagers’ social activities were like. After the dance, I told my parents it was so weird to see young teens locked in each other’s arms during the slow songs. My mother told me it wasn’t something to worry about because a slow dance was still just a dance. But then again, this was before grinding was the norm, and my parents would probably freak out (no pun intended) if they saw what was going on at a modern school dance. 😛

    I think 10 to 12 is the age at which kids start to become interested the opposite gender. I know it happened to me during the second half of sixth grade. While I don’t believe children that young should be in relationships, the fact is that opposites attract; kids will find ways to “hook up” even if school dances didn’t exist. In fact, school dances are actually losing popularity due to social media, but the teen pregnancy rate hasn’t really dropped. Promoting responsible parenting would be a lot more effective than trying to discourage middle school dances.

    Another anecdote: back when I started 7th grade, our school newspaper actually had a “couple of the week” section dedicated to students that were “dating.” The column was discontinued a few weeks later after a student wrote an editorial on how middle school relationships were pointless with people breaking up in less than one week. I don’t know of any such “relationship” that became sexual. Granted, it probably wasn’t as big of an issue back then because kids didn’t “grow up” so quickly due to the influences of social media and pop culture.

    Again, I don’t think school dances are a bad thing. Rather, I’d say much of the problem lies with modern music as many of today’s songs are about sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex and sex. It’s this kind of stuff that encourages lewd dancing and other inappropriate behavior. The “clean” love songs of the past (some of the ’90s hits come to mind) may be nothing than relics of a bygone era. It’s sickening, really.

  11. My 6th grade teacher had the absolute simplest reason for teaching us to dance (to teach us how!) and we all had a great time with it. Once a month, for a 30 minute time period, we shoved our desks to the edges of the room and he would put on music. Everyone had to dance, partners were often chosen by him when kids were “too cool” to dance. It was seriously good clean fun. He taught us how to dance as couples. Since he made everyone dance, no one was excluded and the partners were switched often so no one was pairing up. looking back, I hope someone continued that after he retired. It wasn’t about encouraging romance. It was about learning to dance (hands on shoulders and waists, shifting from foot to foot) and being nicer to one another than kids are generally trying to be at that age. If my two sons were given that experience I would have zero problem with it. However, it was different from the normal dance experience of grouping off in cliques and having more of a dating atmosphere because it was in the classroom, shorter in time period and very much directed by the teacher. There was no getting dressed up, etc.

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  1. […] Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I tackle what may seem to some an insignificant thing, but I believe it has such a great impact on our kids and society as a whole.  […]

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