I have a variety of family members and friends who just went through the “Grade 8 Graduation” rite of passage. It seems like that grad is getting almost as big as high school grad, at least if you take the thought that goes into the dresses into account.

I agree that it’s fun to celebrate kids’ milestones, but what they do at grade 8 grad doesn’t celebrate these kids’ talents and potential and gifts, but instead forces them into grown-up situations for which they are probably not prepared.

I loved going to middle school dances when I was in grades 7 & 8. I had crushes on different boys, and the thought that I may actually get to dance with them was so exciting! But just because I enjoyed it as a kid doesn’t mean it was right. I would have done far better not going and not getting so caught up in them. It was after one of those dances that I had my first “boyfriend”, and that was a big disaster. Why bother when you’re 13?

I don’t blame the kids for wanting to go to a middle school dance. In a way I don’t even blame the parents, although more should be smarter and just say no. I blame the schools. As a parent, it is hard to tell your child they can’t go to a dance when it is the social event of the year and everyone is going to it. Of course, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but I do sympathize with parents in that situation.

What I can’t figure out is why schools insist on perpetuating this charade–that 12-14-year-olds are old enough to “couple off”. Because that’s what dances are for–they encourage coupling off. I know some of my 13-year-old’s friends who went to school dances last week for grad who have now announced on Facebook that they are “going out”. And they’re going to movies, and they’re hanging out together, and they’re thinking of themselves as a couple. And 13 is too young for that.

Why force kids to think romantic when they would be more than happy being friends at that age? Why don’t schools encourage kids to do fun things in groups, rather than allowing them to pretend they’re grown up when they’re not? Dating when you’re a young teenager does few people any good, and does lots serious harm. The earlier you begin dating the earlier sexual activity is likely to start, even if it doesn’t start with that relationship. You think of yourself as needing another half, and the longer you date, the more likely that you are going to take that relationship a step farther, because what else is there to do? It’s not like you can get married or move in together at 15.

I’m not saying that everyone who dates at 13 is going to become pregnant at 15. Of course not. But it certainly makes it more likely, and given our school board is desperate to decrease teenage pregnancy, you’d think they’d figure out that encouraging young kids to date is stupid.

But that’s not the only harm. There’s also harm because kids are just not allowed to be kids anymore. They start wanting to grow up and wanting to do adult things, even though they are not emotionally adults yet. But they think of themselves that way, and they lose out on the fun that can come from being simply 13.

Am I being a fuddy duddy? I don’t mean to be. I know a lot of the pressure for middle school dances comes from the kids themselves, who would rebel if the dances were called off. But I don’t see why you couldn’t do something really fun instead–a field trip to an amusement park, or a camping trip, or something other than a dance. And just because kids would complain doesn’t mean that we’re not right. We, after all, are the adults. They are not. And we should stop encouraging them to think that they are.

Here’s my 16-year-old explaining why she’s not dating in high school. I’m glad she’s made this decision. I just wish the schools would wake up, too!

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