11-year-olds dating? New survey says YES!

A new poll shows that  79% of kids ages 11-14 surveyed have been in or are currently in a relationship and more than half (56%) feel it is important for people their age to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Of those who are dating, 53% of kids ages 11-14 say it is hard to get out of an unhealthy relationship.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the poll and a new initiative in 11 cities to help tweens learn about healthy relationships.

More information found from the polling:

“Although many youth say their friends are in healthy relationships, they also state a majority of people their age are confused about the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.

  • 52% of 11- to14-year-olds say that people their age do not know or are unsure about the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.”

“Youth recognize it is important to get out of an unhealthy relationship, and they would rather not be in any relationship than be in an unhealthy one.

  • 53% of 11- to14-year-olds say it is hard to get out of an unhealthy relationship.
  • 77% of 11- to14-year-olds say they would rather not be in any relationship than be in an unhealthy one.”

“Youth as young as 11 are NOT reaching out to or listening to adults about dating and/or healthy relationships.

  • 55% of 11- to14-year-olds would not talk to an adult if they saw their friend being threatened or abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • 52% of 11- to14-year-olds feel people their age would not break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend if their parents told them to.”

“Although many of the 11- to14-year-olds who were surveyed know how to identify the most unhealthy relationship behaviors, this poll shows that many still do not have a clear sense of what it means to be in a healthy relationship,” says Kristin Schubert, Program Officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This age group offers a critical time to teach about healthy relationships as a way to prevent teen dating violence and abuse.”

So what are 11 to 14 year olds doing on these dates:

  • “6 out of 10 (60%) of youth ages 11-14 say they go to a movie on a typical “date.”
  • 57% say they hang out with a group of friends on a typical “date.”
  • Almost half (47%) say they kiss on a typical ‘date.’”

So I’m baffled by this study and this report. I guess I’m having a hard time with the premise that 11-year-olds are dating. And of course they don’t know what makes a healthy relationship … because they are 11!

Now I believe the 13-and 14-year-olds are dating, and are being exposed to controlling girlfriends or boyfriends and pressure to do things they are not ready to do.

So what do you think about this survey and about the initiative to teach tweens about healthy relationships?

Is your 11-year-old dating? What about 12-year-old? When do kids start dating these days?

What is the best way to teach your tween/teen about what is appropriate in a relationship? What is healthy or unhealthy? Do you think they would discuss with you if their boyfriend/girlfriend was yelling at them or being controlling? Are they more likely to discuss that at 11 or at 16?

193 comments Add your comment

JATL

March 15th, 2010
9:58 am

I have to say, when I was 11-14 (way back in the beginning of the 80s), it was very common for us to have “boyfriends” and “girlfriends.” I say this in the sense though that these were people we saw at school and if we could arrange it, met at the skating rink or the movies. There were never any organized “dates!” I don’t think any of our parents would have let us actually date at 11 or 12. Starting at 13 and 14, it was okay to actually get a call from a boy specifically asking to go to the skating rink or movies -and be picked up by him and his parents. We always said we were “going together” but this meant we had swapped friendship bracelets, kissed behind bleachers and written silly letters to each other.

The thing that I think makes this such a BIG deal these days, is many of these kids are actually having sex or getting REALLY close! Honestly, at least at ages 11, 12 and 13, we never even considered “going all the way” and no one was having oral sex either. The statistics show that, unfortunately, “dating” today seems to imply a lot of sexual activity.

MomOf2Girls

March 15th, 2010
10:06 am

Why are they grouping 11 year olds with 14 year olds? They are light years apart in maturity levels, especially girls.

Teacher, Too

March 15th, 2010
10:13 am

I will tell you that many girls are aggressively pursuing the boys, especially in the middle school. Also,sexual activity is prevalent, at least at the middle school where I teach.

When I was in junior high school, kids “went together.” There was no dating. “Going together” essentially meant that notes were passes and maybe kids held hands, but the sexual behavior was not as rampant as it is today.

Jeff

March 15th, 2010
10:39 am

Given what appears to be unhealthy relationships of parents, it’s going to be difficult to tell 11-14 year olds what a healthy relationship SHOULD be.

TechMom

March 15th, 2010
10:45 am

I don’t really consider meeting a group of friends, one of whom includes your boy/girlfriend, at the movie theater a date; but perhaps that ambiguity is partly the issue and we parents ought to reconsider our definitions. I used to do the same, starting at about age 12, and never considered it a date (If I was meeting the boy there along with 5 other friends and paying for my ticket, it wasn’t a date!) But like JATL, we weren’t doing anything more than holding hands and maybe kissing.

It is very scary to think about the number of kids in unhealthy relationships at such young ages. Kids don’t understand boundaries real well at this age and the impacts of their unwise decisions and so many parents are afraid to parent their kids that they simply turn a blind-eye to any issues.

FCM

March 15th, 2010
11:04 am

Trying to remember when my friends and I started hanging out in groups at the movies…a parent took us and picked us up. Same for the skating rink. I am thinking it was 7th grade…how old is that? Even then it wasn’t “older” boys…I think there is something seriously wrong with a boy who is 14-15 or more doing this kind of dating with an 11 or 12 yr old.

My 10 yo and I had to have a discussion on why she was not going to get her friend’s older brother’s cell number (he is in HS for pete’s sake!). That was this weekend, now she knows, and I know.

Groups going out is ok but I think a parent should still be in the vacinity at this point (same cineplex but not necessarily the same movie) at this age. Perhaps the same movie from time to time if the parent thinks it is warranted or just to mix it up on the kid (have to keep them guessing!).

Generally speaking I do not plan to let my girls (car) date until they are older. No idea what their father plans about it.

Although I think it comes back to what we say daily. You have to establish the lines of communication EARLY…keep them open. Be honest, talk to them, LISTEN to them (even the stuff they don’t say), and most of all PRAY. Then pray more.

Jethro

March 15th, 2010
11:07 am

With young kids watching, loving, and being influenced by shows like 16 & Pregnant and the Kardashians it is a scary time to be a parent.

wmsmommy

March 15th, 2010
11:07 am

An unhealthy relationship is one in which a person of 11 or 12 years of age is involved with the opposite sex.

mom2alex&max

March 15th, 2010
11:10 am

I have to think back. I agree with the poster that said grouping 11 year olds with 14 year olds does not make sense. There is a HUGE difference in maturity levels.

I didn’t “go with” anyone until 13, but by then the boy was actually a boyfriend. We went out on dates alone and kissed…but nothing further. Of course, this was in a different country; we didn’t need a car in the city we lived.

But others in my class did “go with” someone in 6th and 7th grade. Group dates and silly notes. I think dating is too broadly stated in that question.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 15th, 2010
11:27 am

Jethro — I actually think 16 and pregnant and especially the second series of them taking care of the babies can scare girls off of sex. those are some depressed girls dealing with some very harsh realities are dealing with newborns and toddlers.

Jeff

March 15th, 2010
11:40 am

I know kids have to go through things to figure out who they are, but I am scared for some of these kids as they become adults. That goes equally for the boys and the girls.

Stephanie

March 15th, 2010
11:41 am

If you watch 16 and Pregnant especially the girl names Nikkole, you will see these young girls are most certainly in abusive relationships. Most admit that they didnt use birth control because the guy didnt want to, and they go along. The result is a baby that seems to fall all on the young girl and her parents to raise, while the boy gets off scot free and disparages her. This show has truly opened my eyes and made me much more adamant about planning on talking to both my daughter and son about sex, birth control, babies and how you treat another person.

FCM

March 15th, 2010
11:41 am

Jeff I am with you. I know your a single parent, as am I. I think all the time of the behavior I am modeling toward my child.

I have had one male I dated since the divorce meet my children. He never stayed a night while they were home. They never saw him kiss me. They did see him hold my hand or hug me but even that was very limited. I don’t mind the hug or hand holding…they need to see appropriate behaviors that they CAN do with boyfriend one day.

CDD

March 15th, 2010
11:49 am

I did the “going together” thing with boys in school as well when I was about 11 or 12 but there was no dating at all. My dad was of the mindset “you can start dating when you’re 35 – maybe.” Well that didn’t happen but I was around 16 or 17 when I was allowed to actually go out with a boy by myself on an actual date. Anything younger than 15 is waaaaaaaay too young to be allowed to start dating IMO. If they start to date at 14 or less, do you think they’re going to be satisfied to just kiss when they get to 16??? Children need to be able to grow up more slowly and enjoy being a child. Why in the world would a parent allow their child to go on a date before they get to highschool, or even get to puberty?

I don’t think that the group get-togethers are the same thing as dating though. But I don’t think I’ll let my kids do even that without myself or another (trusted!) adult being a chaperon until they’re around 16. Even then it will be a maturity issue.

FCM

March 15th, 2010
11:53 am

I told mine they can date when they get to Graduate School. Seriously.

DB

March 15th, 2010
12:20 pm

My daughter had a chaperone — me — until she was almost 16. She hung out with a group where all the parents knew each other, and if there was a party, every single parent knew whose house and the parents’ plans for the evening. She was not permitted on one-on-one dates until she was 16 — group dates only until then, and guess what? Somebody’s mom went along on the group dates — not sitting WITH them, but in the same theatre, and no, they weren’t allowed to sit on the back row :-). I saw a LOT of bad movies during that time, but as I told my daughter: I trusted her, but I didn’t trust anyone else, and me being there gave her an “out” if the evening wasn’t going well. And, of course, since Mom was there, there wasn’t a 14 year old boy alive who was even going to hold HANDS with her in front of her mom! At 11, 12, and even 13, there was a lot of silliness regarding “boyfriends”, but certainly at 11, she was never permitted to go on a “date”. They hung out at the neighborhood pool (with me in the shade, one eye on a book, one eye on the group), or they may have sat next to each other in lunch, but that’s about as far as it went. My kids received their cell phone upon graduating from middle school, so there was none of that texting/sexting/calling at all hours nonsense. At 14/15, she had a “group date” that was supposed to be 10 people meeting at the movies. I decided to go along — much to her chagrin, imagine her consternation when only three other people showed up: her boyfriend and another couple. :-) Somehow, the other six people weren’t able to come at the last minute . . . yeah, right.

What in the hell are parents thinking when they put their children into situations such as this? As I keep explaining, there is a huge difference between emotional maturity and actual maturity. Some parents get fooled into thinking that because their child knows the facts of life and can watch an R-rated movie, they are “mature”. Emotional maturity is a far more fragile thing, and depends a great deal on a realistic view of the world, a realistic view of other people, a realistic view of themselves, and the ability to consistently make good decisions. So many 11 year olds are still in the fantasy stage (and many adults never get past it) and insist on seeing the world the way they think it should be, and not the way it is. Children NEED that opportunity to grow, instead of being thrust into situations they are not emotionally ready for. It’s practically child abuse, to force a child to grow up that fast. At some point in their life, it WILL catch up with them, because you can’t skip development phases — eventually, you WILL have to go through it in order to be emotionally healthy and have healthy relationships.

My daughter and I watched “16 and Pregnant” a few months ago, and her comment (she was 18) was, “God, thoese girls are so STUPID.” So many of them didn’t bother with birth control or used it improperly. It led to an interesting discussion on good decision-making, responsibility for one’s actions, committed relationships and when to have sex. I have always told my kids, don’t have sex unless you are physically, emotionally and financially able to care for a baby, because sex over time will almost always, assuming all the parts work right, end up with a pregnancy — that’s what it was designed to do. It wasn’t designed for stress relief or a momentary thrill. It’s serious business with serious consequences.

Brown-Eyed Girl!

March 15th, 2010
12:20 pm

I had what we called “in-school boyfriend” when I reached junior high (13yrs old). All we did was held hands and occasionally kissed. No boy called my house until I was 15yrs old and my first date was my senior prom (17yrs old). Back then, I had absolutely no pressure whatsoever to do any more than I was doing. “The Fear” was something that was always on my mind.LOL. Seriously, talking about boyfriends thirty years ago is tremendously different than having one today. Today, these kids are actually having sexual contact. I agree with a previous comment about the little girls that are pursuing the boys. My son is in first grade and there is a little girl in kindergarten that tells him she loves him and wants to hug him all the time. We have told him that the only people he “loves” are his family members. Hopefully, the same “fear” that I had when I was younger will still be in place with him until he and my three year old turns 30!

penguinmom

March 15th, 2010
12:30 pm

@FCM – LOL! Definitely!

I think 11-12 is definitely too young to be dating.

I think a lot of this is based on our society’s acceptance of this. I’ve heard people ask 10-yr-old boys, ‘do you have a girlfriend’. Seriously? That just puts it into the mind of the boy that he is *supposed* to have a girlfriend.

In our home, we work hard to not to push the boyfriend/girlfriend concept on them. I limit some of the shows they watch because there is too much talk of which boy likes which girl or vice versa. Relationships are discussed in terms of the far future and possible marriages. I often tell my kids, if you aren’t old enough to get married, there’s not really a good reason to date. You can hang out with a group of friends without having an exclusive relationship with anyone.

Oh please

March 15th, 2010
12:33 pm

Of course we all remember our little boyfriends and girlfriends in those years. Everybody was “going out” with somebody else. But the truth is that we had NO clue what we were talking about, and neither do these kids that took this survey. They perceive themselves as being in a relationship, and some of these might just blossom into true love someday. But right now, these kids are only experimenting with these new feelings that they haven’t explored before. It’s perfectly natural and not something to be concerned about (though parents should monitor and discourage these budding relationships where possible). The statistic that truly concerned me was that “55% of 11- to14-year-olds would not talk to an adult if they saw their friend being threatened or abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend.” What are we teaching our kids? This is why so many women and children are abused and murdered every day. Please don’t teach your kids to look the other way!

the truth

March 15th, 2010
12:34 pm

DB you are a voice of reason. Very good points and your daughter is lucky to have a mom like you.

Why are 11 year old girls chasing after boys? Because their moms probably act like tramps themselves and think “its cute” that thier little princess is popular with boys.

Bottom line, parents need to be parents and not thier best friend. Step up to the play and grow a pair.

Sarah H

March 15th, 2010
12:34 pm

I have 6th graders tell me that they are “going with” someone. It doesn’t mean they are dating. It just means that they like each other. However, I do know some 6th graders whose mothers encourage them to date.

RJ

March 15th, 2010
12:38 pm

Second attempt to post…

“Going together” is one thing, going on a real date is totally different. How are these kids able to go on a date? I agree with Teacher, Too regarding sexual activity. Girls today are extremely aggressive and doing the unspeakable in 6th – 8th grades. Parents are not always in the dark either. I actually had two eighth graders whose parents allowed them to spend the night at each other’s house. They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other while in school. The girl’s mom felt that it was better they were doing it where it was safe. We had parents dropping their kids off while smoking marijuana…it’s just kinda ridiculous. All I can say is parents need to start having talks with their kids by 4th grade. Even if your child isn’t doing these things they’re probably going to be exposed to it in this day and age.

I have an 11 year old and he isn’t mature enough to hang out at the movies without adult supervision. My teenager can start dating at 16. Those are the rules. Parents have to step up and be the parent first.

Katie

March 15th, 2010
12:58 pm

My son is a 6th grader ..he has a “girlfriend” but he does not date. I won’t even allow a group outing. I really don’t even like the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing at this age. I have noticed how forward kids are these days, especially middle school girls. Some of the text my son gets amaze me…nothing dirty just girls being straight forward about how much they like him or another guy and how they want to go out with someone. I have told my son and will tell my daughter the same when she gets to those years….having a girlfriend/boyfriend is trouble…its unecessary drama. Middle scholers aren’t mature enough to handle dating. Like a previous poster wrote…act like the parent….don’t let your 1-14 year old date…why is that a good idea at all to put them in that position?

Julia

March 15th, 2010
1:12 pm

we all when it was puppy love say we were going out with so and so but out on a date.. not just no but hell no….

Decatur Taliban

March 15th, 2010
1:12 pm

Keep your girl children close and a 12 gauge shotgun even closer.

NItro

March 15th, 2010
1:14 pm

First it starts at home and building expectations with your children & providing logical advice.

My daughters who are 12 & 15 know I expect them to introduce boys to me & I want to meet the boys parent(s). Next my girls are to young to date, so we do different things: I allow movie night over the house and the kids can invite boys & girls. Boys can come to dinner or go out to dinner with us (or go to the movies with us, etc.)

When my daughter turns 16 she can go out on a date in a group setting, with other boys & girls.
Then as we get to know the boy & he knows us, we can extend more freedoms with dating.

But I am old fashion and make no apology for it. Hormones are hormones & I know what I was like at 14 to 20 something yrs old. I think I can help my girls learn about boys slowly and make them strong independent women who don’t need a man to validate their existence. (like so many young girls do today.)

another generation of

March 15th, 2010
1:14 pm

prosta tots….

stepmom2

March 15th, 2010
1:15 pm

I am a usual “lurker” but…..
I agree with what everyone says. I have a step-daughter that will be 14 this month and she does live with myself and her dad. These middle school girls today are very dramatic when it comes to boys. Her & her friends always talking about their boyfriend cheated on them with so & so or how much they love so & so and that they can’t live without them. I tell her all that time that this is the age where you make your lifelong friends and that boys are not anything to be wasting time on right now. She lives and breathes boys..it’s a constant battle in our house between us and her. The begging these girls do too about asking them out & how much they like them…but the boys aren’t so shy about any of it either.

Our problem is she see’s her mom doing this same thing- constantly having a different boyfriend around, always staying at their house, saying their getting married and then a few weeks later she has someone new and all the while her mom puts these boyfriends ahead of my stepdaughter who in turns things boys should always come first.

Do as I say not as I do??

March 15th, 2010
1:16 pm

Can this be one of the situations that ok I got knocked up at 15 and had 3 kids.. Please do not follow in my foot steps because you can have such more a better life….?????

Teacher, Too

March 15th, 2010
1:21 pm

Where my son went to middle school last year there were 4 girls there that were pregnant…..

@Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:23 pm

Yep it does.. when yall multiply like rabbits just to get that welfare check… yea it breeds a whole new generation all you have to do is pop out babies to get a check.

stepmom2

March 15th, 2010
1:24 pm

@ Teacher, Too there were a few girls pregnant last year in her school and one that i know of had an abortion. I thought she said there were a couple pregnant this year too.

Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:25 pm

“Where my son went to middle school last year there were 4 girls there that were pregnant…..”

Yeah, seems to be an epidemic. Parents, who are just as stupid as the kids, let their kids do anything and everything they want.

it just wont go away

March 15th, 2010
1:28 pm

its because moms did it and now its all in the media…. that its the cool thing to do….. UGH!

I have told my son

March 15th, 2010
1:29 pm

you better wrap that thing good because I will not be raising your kids and it will SUCK for the next 18 years for you to have to pay child support

it

March 15th, 2010
1:30 pm

I remember having girlfriends at that age and mostly it was innocent.

However, near the end of my 8th grade year (13 I guess) a girl from the grade below me (I guess 12) told me that she liked me and asked me to ride my bike to her house. It was summer and no one was home. She and I did things that afternoon that I did not do again for many years. It was an odd thing. I can still remember every detail. (won’t share here)

When I was older, I thought back on it and I suppose that the girl must have been molested or something because she knew things that I certainly did not. And she seemed very comfortable with the whole situation.

Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:32 pm

“you better wrap that thing good because I will not be raising your kids and it will SUCK for the next 18 years for you to have to pay child support”

So you’re supporting your son having sex? No wonder our kids are so screwed up. No pun intended.

Bubba

March 15th, 2010
1:33 pm

The only thing that has changed is the decline in virtuous adult role models, general standards of society, the power of shame, and the old norm of early marriage. It used to be that girls married by 14.

Other than that, kids are pretty much like they always were.

Jayna

March 15th, 2010
1:35 pm

11-14? I’m not a parent but I do recall my middle school years myself. There weren’t just high rates of sexual activity, there were graphic stories of sex acts performed in bathrooms, the back of cars, etc. And that was about 15 years ago. Kids that age are absolutely not mature enough to date. In my opinion, half the kids in high school are nowhere near mature enough to date.

Girls especially need to be taught that they don’t need to be attached at the hip to some idiot pre-teen boy for whatever reason it is they think they do. I knew girls in middle school who would do anything a boy asked (and I mean anything) just to keep him from breaking up with them. This then, leads those boys to grow up thinking they can get whatever they want out of women. It is a terrible situation all around.

Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:35 pm

“It used to be that girls married by 14.”

Married being the key word there.

stepmom2

March 15th, 2010
1:39 pm

@ Jayna- I completely agree. I try to tell my stepdaughter all the time that you don’t want to be “that” girl and that right now boys aren’t worth the trouble.

John Q

March 15th, 2010
1:41 pm

Your first two posters said it all. And without knowing whether “healthy” or “unhealthy” was defined for the children being polled, I have a hard time understanding the relevance any of this poll has for any issue. 11 year olds grouped with 14 year olds? Pu-lease….

Lynn

March 15th, 2010
1:42 pm

I don’t know what’s up with Booty Called, Did you or one of your parents have a child in this age group. Having a baby in your teens is no laughing matter. If I had a daughter I would sit down and watch the Pregnancy Pact that was on the LMN channel a few weeks back. Bringing a child into the world is a Blessing, however when a child brings in a child it’s a travesty.

Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:42 pm

Anyone here ever watch “Teen Mom” on MTV? It’s a sad sad show about redneck kids, mostly from the south, who are trying to raise a baby with idiot teenage boys who…..have no ambitions to do anything in life except play xbox.

Honestl

March 15th, 2010
1:42 pm

Honestly….most kids don’t even know who they are at that age 11 much less someone else….so much growing up to do! They need to be kids and enjoy those years without all the hoopla and concerns of a relationship! They need the protection, oversight, guidance & proper instruction of loving parents. If their parents don’t know how to do that, they need to seek help!

Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:43 pm

“Did you or one of your parents have a child in this age group.”

Nope and nope.

“Having a baby in your teens is no laughing matter.”

I’m not laughing.

@Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:45 pm

No jack a&& I am not.. He even says he wants to stay a virgin til he gets married.. I just know that if for some reason he gets his self in that situation… for gods sake please use protection…

.....

March 15th, 2010
1:45 pm

@ Booty Called…most of those girls on that show are from the Midwest.

Teacher, Too

March 15th, 2010
1:46 pm

There are two of us using “Teacher, Too.” I usually post on the Get Schooled blog. I posted the first response using “Teacher, Too.” The other responses are not mine.

@Booty Called

March 15th, 2010
1:47 pm

you are an idiot and a biggot.. its not just white trailor trash from the south and how dare you!