Monday, September 19, 2011
The first part of our plan was to encourage our children to have positive interactions with the opposite gender, as early possible. In pre-school, they were happy to engage in play activities without regard to gender. By grade school, they seemed to have a natural draw to spend time within their own gender, but we still encouraged them to form cross-gender groups and partnerships for school projects, and to interact with family friends of the opposite gender in social situations.
Once our kids hit the pre-teen years of middle school, we began encouraging them to participate socially in what our friends called “group dates.” We wanted them to learn how to interact with other kids of the opposite gender, and begin to assess which personality traits they valued in people of the opposite gender, without the intimacy of one-on-one dating situations. Group dating allowed our kids to have the kind of social interaction that allows exploration in an emotionally safe environment. It gave them opportunities to become familiar with a new boy or girl by interacting with their group of friends, outside of the pressure and awkwardness of a formal date. Here are some guidelines to help your kids with successful group dating:
All events should be adult supervised. For pre-teens, this means parental supervision. For teens, it can also include other adults at supervised events like school socials and dances, church youth gatherings, and birthday parties. Your supervision shouldn’t be suffocating, but you’ll want to keep an eye on what’s going on.
Parental planning and facilitation. In the pre-teen and young teen years, parents should be involved in the planning, to help orchestrate a successful social event. You may also need to host in your home or drive all the kids to an event.
It’s best to start with large groups. Even if the boys and girls stay grouped by gender for most of the social activity, they will at least begin to get comfortable having each other around. As your kids get more comfortable breaking the ice and interacting, you can reduce the size of the groups.
Odd numbers are best. You want to avoid pairing off, so an odd number of kids are best, but not required. For special events, like formal school dances, this may not be possible, but the goal is to avoid the pain of adolescent infatuation. Double-dating is OK for teens, as long as the goal isn’t to begin a “steady” relationship.
Have them bring a friend. When inviting friends of the opposite gender to a social event, the most common question is, “who else is going to be there?” No awkward pre-teen wants to be the only boy or girl at an event. We recommend all invitations to mixed social events always either extend an invitation to bring a same-gender friend, or clarification that a close friend is also being invited. Don’t be surprised if everyone needs a separate phone or text message conversation with all of their friends to make a group decision before accepting the invitation.