Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I tackle the ridiculousness of middle school dances.
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.
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!