The Tween Dating Scene: Can You Spell T-E-X-T?

Kara Powell | Feb 14, 2012

Since it’s Valentines Day, I thought it would make sense to talk about dating. I’m going to sound old here, but when I was 12, boys would ask girls to “go” with them. If the girl said “yes”, which was a pretty common answer, relationships would last for about a week, and would be more about notes exchanged back and forth (or exchanged among friends of the boy and girl, e.g., the girl’s friend asked the boy if he still liked the girl) than actual time together or conversation.

According to a Wall Street Journal summary of new study of tween dating habits and attitudes, some elements of dating have changed in the last 30 years and some haven’t. First, let’s talk about what’s changed.

1. Passing notes in school is now texting and Facebooking.

Social media is the new form of communication, and some (maybe even most) communicate more words by text than face to face.

2. More openness to oral sex and intercourse.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the research summary was the greater openness to oral sex and intercourse.

More than 1 in 4 tweens say oral sex and intercourse are part of tween relationships, the Liz Claiborne survey found. That doesn’t mean 1 in 4 tweens are engaging in those behaviors, however. Respondents were answering a question about dating behavior in general at that age, rather than their own conduct.

When I was 12, I thought “oral sex” meant talking about sex. I’m not kidding. I really did.

What has stayed the same?

Well, tween dating relationships are still awkward, short-lived, and often in the context of larger circles of friendship. Even more importantly, tween dating relationships still give parents a fantastic chance to go deeper in their life and faith discussions with their students.

A kid’s first crush poses an opportunity to teach values, Ms. Wiseman says. A parent might say, “Tell me what you like about this person,” and explore whether the child knows what distinguishes healthy relationships from harmful ones.

Tweens are interested, at least at some level, in the opposite gender. Their interest, crushes and awkwardness give us as parents and leaders wonderful conversational doors to ask questions and talk more about healthy relationships. We can ask:

-What do you like about this person?

-What concerns do you have about this person?

-What advice would you give a friend who was interested in this person?

-How does dating this person fit with what you think God’s picture for your life is?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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