Dear Susan,

I have an 11-year-old son already experiencing girl problems! He has his first girl friend. Initially we thought it was cute and teased him about it, but now it looks more serious. He walks her home every single day and has written her letters over the Internet, telling her how much he loves her. Yesterday he came home crying because he said that she had ‘ broken up’ with him. His grades have dropped since they began ‘dating’, so we have stopped him from calling her. I have tried telling him he is too young to be acting like this, and that there will be plenty of time for girlfriends later on. He says we have ruined his life and that he is afraid she will get a new boyfriend if we don’t let him call her. This does not seem like normal behavior for an 11 year old. Any suggestions?

Janice, London


Dear Janice,

It appears that your son has a ‘crush’, and that is really very normal during the pre-teen years. He is likely experiencing a shift in his hormones, so his feelings are not just new, they are intense!

However, due to his young age, he does not have the maturity to deal with the intensity of his feelings, so his crush likely feels very serious to him. Also, because of the volatility of his hormonal state, the crush will probably dissipate as quickly as it emerged…and that could leave him feeling very vulnerable and cause intense sadness. They aren’t called ‘Crushes’ for nothing! This is a good time to have a discussion about boyfriends and girlfriends, the highs and the lows, and how to cope with feelings like attraction, sadness or jealousy.

Whether it is this crush or a later one, I would suggest setting up some boundaries. At age 11, there are not many places he can really ‘take’ his date, so I would suggest telling him that it’s OK to spend time with his crush at gatherings or events, but it’s not OK for just the two of them to spend time alone. In this way, the emphasis on ‘romance’ is diluted, and leaves room for him to also be spending time with friends, who are equally, if not more important.

Allow him to invite his crush to your home. You will be able to see first hand, what the relationship is like, and it will prevent all the complications of forcing him to sneak around you to call or see her. You can also help him shift his passion for his crush toward something more meaningful, by introducing and facilitating other passions. Does he love astronomy? Music? Theatre? Help him become involved in an outside activity he can take pride in.

Crushes are normal, and act as trial runs for later dating experience, however, I would be concerned if he is also withdrawing from his friends or from his usual hobbies and activities? This could indicate some obsessiveness. His crush should not overtake his life. If you feel that it has crossed that line, I would consider making an appointment with a child psychologist.