Nearly half of 11- to 14-year-olds say they have been in a dating relationship, according to a 2008 survey of 1,043 tweens by Tru, a Chicago youth market-research firm, for Liz Claiborne. A larger share—60%—think parents should let middle-schoolers date, according to a recent online poll of 787 users by Yoursphere, a social-networking website for tweens and teens.
But "dating" in middle school doesn't mean what many adults think. Tween couples talk mostly via text and chat. Their relationships are fleeting but all-consuming. They date in packs—but expect their boyfriends and girlfriends to be monogamous. When they break-up, it's often via text. And they keep their parents largely in the dark.
Anthony Conselatore didn't tell his parents the first time he asked a girl out, at age 12. "I was nervous, and we really didn't talk much while we were dating," says the Potomac Falls, Va., teen. "We'd see each other in the hallway for five minutes, then go to classes and not talk to each other again until the next week." Within a couple of months, he adds, "she fell in love with a different guy, and she broke up with me," he says. "It happens."
Now 14, Anthony is "more than friends" with a girl at school. When he sees her in the hall, "we give each other a hug and go on with our lives," he says. But they fire more than 300 text messages back and forth each day. If they do go out, they go in a pack of friends because it helps avoid "that awkward moment, when we're staring at each other for five minutes, not saying anything," Anthony says.
When a classmate approached 13-year-old Nicholas Kelly in the school cafeteria to ask him out, she brought a friend for "moral support," Nicholas says. "We dated for seven days," mostly by text message, Nicholas says. "In middle school, a long relationship is a month. Anything over that and your friends say, 'Omigod, you guys have been together that long?' " He adds, "Then, she broke up with me. I lay on my bed staring at the wall for three hours, and then it was, like, 'OK, I've got a life,' " and he went out with his friends and forgot about it.
These days, talk about dating becomes pervasive when kids turn 9 or 10, amid earlier onset of puberty and social pressure to grow up fast, experts say.
Source: Wall Street Journal