GROWING CONCERNS: A childrearing question-and-answer column with Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota. Question:
Our daughter will turn 12 in a few weeks, and she's very excited about planning a special party at our home. We're glad to work with her to plan a party that she and her friends will really enjoy, but she wants to include boys. Some of the boys and girls her age already talk about each other as "boyfriends" and "girlfriends," and we're uneasy about feeding into romantic ideas at such an early age. What do you think about a boy-girl party at age 12?Answer:
I think this is a great age for boys and girls to learn to interact with each other as friends, in groups, and especially under the loving guidance of concerned parents
like you. You are fortunate that your daughter trusts and enjoys you enough that she wants you to help plan and supervise her party.
Although 12-year-olds typically are eager for the perks and freedom of being a teenager
or young adult, they are still young enough that parents can have a good deal of control and influence on what they do. By working with your daughter in advance to plan carefully for her party, you can help set a positive tone and clear expectations for respectful behavior. You can help create an environment in which the boys and girls can join each other in wholesome, healthy activities--perhaps skating, broomball, bowling, or volleyball. Or, if your neighborhood lends itself to it, you could divide into two adult-led teams and go on a scavenger hunt, then gather at home for pizza or make-them-yourself tacos. Or create your own "Millionaire" contest, using questions geared to the special interests of the kids. (Your daughter will need to be the expert here, of course.) No doubt your daughter will have lots of good party ideas of her own, but your job is to keep the focus on supervised, everyone-together group activities.
One of the benefits of a boy-girl party at this stage of your daughter's life is that it gives you a chance to get to know her friends and their parents before the kids reach the age where they're dating independently or off on their own. Well before the party, call each guest's parents and let them know the plans: who will attend the party, the activities you have planned, who will supervise, the ending time and transportation arrangements. Then ask the parents if they have any concerns or questions.
Another benefit of mixed-gender parties at this young age is that boys and girls can establish a foundation for relationships that are grounded in friendship and shared activities, rather than the more superficial flirtations and romances that sometimes develop. Although times are very different from when I was growing up--and there are many dangers today that young people rarely faced when I was entering adolescence--I remember my parents and my friends' parents having similar concerns about boy-girl parties when I was your daughter's age. But, as I look back, I am grateful that our parents allowed us to have our parties, under their watchful eyes. That "practice" in relationships with boys helped me feel more comfortable and confident by the time I was allowed to date independently. I suspect the same could be true for your daughter.
Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota
News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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