Understanding Dating & Relationships in Middle School

Your middle schooler may want to date (gasp). 

What’s worse? They may already be doing it. But don’t freak out. 

As the parent, you set the tone for what dating looks like for your tween and if you’re comfortable with them “dating” in the first place.

As teens develop their identity, they’ll feel varying pressure to be “attractive” to others. 

In fact, Today’s Parenting Team says if your child wants to date in middle school, it probably has less to do with physical contact and more about the question: “Am I the type of person someone could like?

They may wonder if their bodies are developing “right” and feel insecure about those changes – whether it’s “too fast” or “too slow” relative to their friends. It’s essential to help your child understand why they may feel this way and how to express their interest in new friendships (or more) appropriately and respectfully.

How to talk about middle school dating with my tween?

First and foremost, understand what “dating” means to your middle schooler. Do they consider dating extra texting with someone? Holding hands between classes and lunch? Or posting social media posts with them and a special friend? After you learn how your tween views dating, define what it means for your household as the parent.

Next, remember that middle school is an awkward time. Middle schoolers have constant anxiety about their bodies and being liked. It was that way for you, and is for them now. 

According to Your Teen Mag, “dating (whatever that means) can be the ultimate confidence booster” for your tween.

Then establish your ground rules. Your Teen Mag recommends saying yes to some things and no to others instead of flat-out forbidding your middle schooler from “dating” altogether. 

For example, once you and your tween have defined what dating is and understand what it means for your household, you might say yes to posting a picture with their dating friend on social media but no to kissing this friend. Whatever you decide, make sure your middle schooler is clear about what they can and cannot do while “dating.”

How do I talk to my preteen about healthy relationships?

You’re the best model for your middle schooler to understand healthy relationships. 

Planned Parenthood recommends the following when discussing how to identify healthy relationships:

  • Actively listen to your middle schooler and ask them open-ended questions about their dating relationship
  • Ask to meet their “special” friend.
  • If you’re not okay with them dating until they’re older, talk about what that age will be and what dating behavior is OK with you once they’re older.
  • Suppose you learn your middle schooler is in a relationship with someone older than them. In that case, it’s a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship and should be addressed.

How do I talk to my middle schooler about sex and relationships?

Yes. You read that right. Sex. In. Middle. School. 


We’ll get through this together. We can’t express this enough. Communication is your best defense. If you’re intentional about talking to your tween on a regular basis about any and everything, they’ll feel more confident about coming to you about any and everything, including sex.  

We like what Planned Parenthood has to say here too. They emphasize that consent is THE priority in any sexual behavior.

Ensure your middle schooler understands the importance of consent, how to say NO to things they’re uncomfortable with, and to respect others people’s boundaries as well as their own. 

Now what?

Showing your teen that you will hear them without judgment will lead to them coming to you with help to make safer, age-appropriate decisions about their friendships and relationships rather than hiding their feelings with disastrous results.

So your middle schooler asked to date. Don’t fret. Remember that it may not mean the same thing to them as it does to you and to keep the communication lines open. Talk to your teen about relationships and how to approach dating conversations with peers.

You’ve got this!

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Willaim Wright

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