Preteen crushes

A listening ear may be all your in-love preteen needs from you

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Remember having a crush on your best friend’s big brother or your grade-five teacher? I was deeply in love with mine, Mr. Miller, when I was 10. I memorized almost every word he spoke. Of course, I never admitted to anyone how I felt.

Do preteens today still have crushes? Oh, yeah. And they’re not as bashful and shy as we were about sharing their feelings.

Diane Patterson* watched her son, Ben, go through his first crush at age 10. “She was a friend’s daughter who was several years older. He drew a picture of her with hearts all over the paper,” she recalls.

Not content to just admire her from a distance, Ben would eagerly spend time with this girl whenever the families got together, and would IM her as often as he could. She was friendly and treated him well, but nothing more. He’s 12 now, and she’s still the girl of his dreams.

Naturally, Patterson worries her son will be hurt. She’s talked to Ben about the situation, pointing out that the object of his devotion is much older, already has a boyfriend and probably thinks of him as a little brother. “Telling him this didn’t change anything,” she adds. “He still hopes she will come to like him in a different way.”

It can also be challenging for the parent of the child who is the “crushee.” Amy Irish* is a mother of three, including nine-year-old daughter Rosie, who is the object of another nine-year-old’s deep affection.

Rosie has known Andrew since she was three. “They’d get along one minute, then hate each other the next,” Irish recalls. “Once, when he was five, he kissed her on the school bus. But then they went right back to fighting.”

One day, Andrew asked Rosie what her favourite charm was. “I jokingly said ‘I hope you told him diamonds,’” says Irish. A week later, Andrew presented Rosie with a sterling-silver necklace with a heart pendant, set with diamond chips. “Real diamonds,” Irish adds.

Irish felt the gift was inappropriate, but when she approached Andrew’s mother, the response was not what Irish expected. “She had no problem with it and told me Andrew had bought it with his own money and spent hours picking it out.” Not wanting to create a difficult situation with a neighbour, Irish let it go. Andrew still has a huge crush on Rosie.
Parent coach Wendy McDonnell of Guelph, Ont., says it’s important to be sensitive when talking to preteens about their crushes. “I try to remember what it was like when I had a crush, how all-consuming it was,” she says. She counsels parents of tweens: “Many times, listening quietly is all they need. They want your support and understanding, rather than judgment.” While we may privately smile about these crushes (or feel a bit freaked out that our kids are growing up so quickly!), it’s better to express those thoughts to our partners or a friend. “Your preteen needs to know that his feelings matter,” says McDonnell.

This is something Cynthia Wilson* understands. One of her daughters “fell head over heels in love” when she was nine, during a family vacation. “The boy was a year older. They played in the pool and talked shyly together afterward,” Wilson recalls. “She wrote a note that she wanted me to give him before he left.” It said: “For Robby. I have a crush on you Robby. I love you. From Lucy. We leave on the 16th.” Wilson decided not to drop off the note. “I thought I’d save her from embarrassment,” she says.

When they got home, Lucy was so upset that Wilson called back to the front desk of the hotel and persuaded them to give her Robby’s family’s address. Lucy and Robby exchanged a few letters, but in time the relationship faded away. Wilson still feels it was worth the effort to help Lucy work through the relationship. “Their feelings can be so intense,” she says.

Celebrity crushes
Diane Patterson’s nine-year-old son has a serious crush on actress Miranda Cosgrove. “He watches every TV show she’s in, writes her letters and posts pictures of her on his bedroom walls,” Patterson says. “He wants us to move
to LA.” Celebrity crushes are supported by an entire industry of magazines, websites and TV shows, with constant information about celebrities’ favourite foods and ideal dates. Annoying as they can be for the parent who’d rather not listen to Justin Bieber 24-7, these crushes at least avoid some of the potential pain and drama that those focused on peers can evoke.

*Names changed by request.

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