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Eleven-Year-Old Wants to Date

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 11-year-old daughter is maturing very fast. She's told me that she likes guys at school, but I'm not sure if I should let her date.

A: Many girls in your daughter's generation are maturing physically at a more rapid pace than those in previous generations. For a girl who has physically matured at an early age, your daughter may possibly be dealing with some surging hormones and the beginnings of her body's sexual awakening. "Liking guys" at school is not unusual for an 11-year-old. However, there is a major difference at her age between liking boys and dating them. I believe that 11-year-olds are far too young to engage in dating behaviors.

Although your daughter may look years older than her age, her emotional intelligence, reasoning, and judgment have a long way to go to catch up to her body. In essence, she may be a girl with the body of an older teen, but her emotional and intellectual makeup remains that of an 11-year-old. Older boys often pursue girls who mature earlier physically and these girls are often flattered and excited by this attention (for example, the freshman girl who is romanced by the senior boy).

Although it's usually true that girls do mature socially earlier than boys do, we are not talking here about socialization skills -- we are talking about 11-year-olds dating. I would not belittle or embarrass your daughter by making fun of her sudden attraction to "the guys at school," but I would set clear dating guidelines at this time. Boys and girls socializing together at this age is healthy, but in my opinion, individual dating should not be encouraged or allowed. Because of your daughter's early and rapid physical maturation, you need to be aware that she resist postponing her entrance into the dating world. Make sure that you engage her in an ongoing, age-appropriate dialogue of sex and sexuality as part of her overall childhood development. By the way, consider the fact that although she may protest loudly if you do not let her date for the next couple of years, down deep she may be relieved that she can avoid her own fears about dating by blaming her mom.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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