Friday, September 23, 2011

Dating Culture: Junior High

Heads up! This and the other posts in the series about the dating scene are simply my own perspective; it is not Church teaching, nor does it necessarily reflect the views of anyone affiliated with me personally or professionally. Okay, you can put your head back down.

By the time I was about 12 years old, most of my friends were “going out” with someone. It became cliché for our parents or our friends’ parents to sarcastically ask, “Oh? And where exactly are they going?” We would roll our eyes at the irritating, patronizing, and embarrassing question. Sometimes, if we felt up to it, we would push back: “Mommm, it doesn’t mean they go places. They’re boyfriend and girlfriend. [Insert deep, exasperated sigh here].”
“Going out” in junior high meant couples held hands, talked on the phone, couple skated at Friday Night Skate, passed notes in school, walked around at the mall together, sat together at lunch, etc. Physical boundaries varied from hand-holding, to hands venturing to where they certainly do not belong. Many of the serious conversations were accomplished through a liaison, some mutual friend who would go back and forth between the boy and the girl, bringing messages such as:
“Barbie likes you.”
“Ken says he likes you too. I’m going to push him at you when we pass your locker.”
I desperately wanted a boyfriend. I don’t know if it was because I wanted to be just like my friends, who were the coolest girls I’d ever known, or if I thought that having a boyfriend would make me feel pretty. It was probably a mixture of the two.
Fortunately, I didn’t have a boyfriend during this period of my life. That poor boy would have been saddled with the burden of my insecurities—a burden that could only be lifted by God (and eventually was, when I allowed him to do so). Thank God, I grew up experiencing the love of Jesus in my home life; otherwise I probably would have been even more desperate for a boyfriend, and more disappointed if I’d had one.
Junior high is tough. Everyone is fighting to fit in, while balancing new freedoms, looking at different high schools, hitting puberty at different rates, and more. The unwritten law of junior high culture is: if you don’t want to get made fun of, the best defense is a good offense. Be exclusive or be excluded. If someone is making a joke that you don’t understand or that you don’t like, you had better laugh anyway, or you’ll be the next punch line. It’s no wonder that junior high girls want boyfriends to make them feel beautiful, popular, and loved*.
Dating is not the solution. A girl longing to feel beautiful and loved needs solid relationships with friends, family, and above all, with God. Interest in and curiosity about boys is normal, natural, and healthy. But why would we leave her to her own devices to figure out what to do with that interest? She may not always admit it, but she needs guidance. Instead of treating junior high culture like a joke, those of us adults who have a relationship with a junior higher ought to encourage her to practice her unique talents, improve at being a good friend, develop a relationship with Christ, develop firm values, and think for herself.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." –      Proverbs 22:6

*This statement is based on my own observations, experiences, and conversations with junior high girls.

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