Should An 11-Year-Old Have a Girlfriend, or Boyfriend?


Here are the twins, Ethan and Ronin, on their 11th birthday.

When is the last time you came in contact with an 11-year-old? Was Xbox at the center of conversation, or maybe they wanted to discuss their top recipes for making slime, that is if they wanted to talk at all? Regardless, I am positive that none of the interactions led you to believe the 11-year-old was ready for a romantic relationship.

An 11-year-old should not have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Though some may look physically adult at such a young age, tweens do not have the ability to handle the emotional decisions that accompany romantic relationships.

I’m a mom to four former 11-year-olds. I can vouch that not one, even our most mature and responsible child, was yet ready for or could benefit from a romantic relationship. To look at this further, we will take the assumption that the relationship is ‘peer appropriate’, meaning with another 11-year-old because the inappropriateness of all else should not even be debatable.

What it Means to be 11 Years Old

To accurately consider this question and not just rely on preferences, we should look at what it really means to be an 11-year-old. Throughout life, we have certain milestone expectations such as walking by a year old and potty training by age 3.

However, many times the ’11-years’ are called the forgotten years because we don’t always notice changes around this age nor think about big accomplishments or achievements at 11 years old.

Yet, there are milestones and changes at or around this age. Because rates of maturity and growth vary from person to person in some regard, these changes are attributed to a range, more like ages 10-13. Some reach them a little younger than age 11, while others are a bit slower and reach them a year or two past age 11.

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Media Perspective

Common Sense Media is a researched-backed, nonprofit organization that analyzes media and technology for child appropriateness. As a teacher, I relied on Common Sense Media to vet books and movies before presenting in class or using in lessons. It was a suggested resource from my school district.

Found here, Common Sense Media put together their basis of recommendations for appropriate entertainment for an 11-year-old. This site says that 11-year-olds can handle “abstract relationships and double entendres, but they can also be susceptible to naïve opinions and one-sided arguments.” I think this is useful information for background to our question about the appropriateness of tween relationships.

But just as interesting, as it pertains to our title question, Common Sense Media states that tweens put heightened importance on what peers think and can be quite dramatic in their responses. As a mom of these tweens, I’m not surprised! And just as significant, the site purports that this ability to over respond in situations and overt concern about peers can put tweens at risk for inappropriate relationships.

What Does Science Say about 11-Year-Olds?

The CDC lists milestones for 11-year-olds, too. They say here that children in this age group start to experience more peer pressure. Tweens are also just becoming more aware of their bodies, especially as they start changing due to puberty. These changes are often the cause of body image and eating problems that emerge around this age.

Famed psychologists such as Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson dubbed the tween period ‘adolescent egocentrism.’ This is because of the revert back to self-centered thinking that occurs in adolescence (the whole world is looking at them, right?!), much like what occurs in toddler-hood.

Another thing to keep in mind for this age group is nutrition. Because their bodies are rapidly developing, looking almost adult-like even, their appetites are growing too. This is a good time, according to this research here by the University of San Francisco Hospital, to teach your tween to cook. This way you can impart good nutritional choices while they learn a life skill.

A study from Behavioral Sciences 2016 issue found that 11 year olds have a very difficult time with the emotional fall-out of romantic relationships. As we all can agree, a relationship involving 11-year-olds is not a long-term thing, right? So, eventually these same 11-year-olds will have to deal with the emotions that come after breaking up.

This same study found that depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies were much higher in adolescents who have experienced romantic breakups by the age of 15. Those who’ve experienced post-relationship problems were also more likely to be associated with mental health disorders.

To look at this even further, a 2006 study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience looked at adolescent brain development and how that impacts social relationships. They explain that the brain undergoes tremendous growth and development through adolescence and early adulthood. And specifically the regions that control social cognition and emotions are impacted the most.  

Hmmm, so what does all of this mean in regards to an 11-year-old having a girlfriend, or boyfriend? It seems to me that science has overwhelming evidence that it is not in the best interest of our tweens. Just say no!

Can you remember being 11 years old?

I don’t think we can exactly relate to Harry Potter’s 11th birthday, when he discovered he was a wizard. But take away the visit from Hagrid and Harry’s new-found ability to cast spells, most of us can identify with Harry Potter after all. Just take a look at his awkward appearance- his uncool hair cut, dorky-oft broken eyeglasses, and haphazard dress. At least I can!

You can get your eleven year old a copy of the complete collection of Harry Potter movies here from Amazon.

I remember being 11- many, many moons ago. I remember being unsure how to style my newly cut bangs and not wanting to wear anything that would cause attention to myself. This resulted in me raking back said bangs in a very unbecoming hair do for picture day, now forever-etched in my personal history.

This is 11-year-old me, dorky glasses and all!

I remember being so afraid the teacher would call on me when I didn’t know the answer; and then afraid others would call me ‘nerd’ if I did know the answer!

Do you remember feeling confident and self-assured when you were 11 years old? Were you eager for attention and unafraid to voice your opinion? Probably not. Do you think you were ready for a romantic relationship with another equally-awkward and unassured 11-year-old? Me neither!

11 Years Old Yesterday, Today, and in the Future

Certainly society has changed throughout history and our day-to-day living as well. The quality of life, as well as our quantity of years, certainly affects how we live,too. It affects our education, family relationships, marriage and so on.

Past Social Norms and Mores

In ancient times, of course, daily living was different for children than it is today. Life expectancy was shorter and thus, people married younger than what we see now in modern civilizaiton.

For example, in Ancient Greece, girls married around age 15 while boys in Sparta were taken early from their families, around age 7, and sent to training camps to learn the methods and tricks of battle.

In Ancient Rome, only boys and girls from wealthy or noble families were educated. However, by age 12, girls were pulled from ‘school’ and were then entered into courtships for marriage. Inca male children were ready for marriage by 14.

During the middle ages, most children from nobility or wealthy families married by age 14 but often as young as 12. Children of poorer families usually waited a bit later; the girls often marrying much younger than boys though, to men who were ‘settled’ in life and could support them.

During the Industrial Age, children often worked long hours, much like their parents, for a lot less-and of course the money wasn’t theirs. Best estimates show that over 50% of factory workers during this time in Britain were under age 15.

In US history, marrying age has progressively gotten older. While most states still permit underage marriage, it generally requires parental consent and usually involves teenage pregnancy.

In 1890 the median age of first marriage for women was 22; in 2018 it was 28. The lowest median age in between these years for women is 20. For men, it is an estimated 4 years higher at all times.

This is all to say that when the average age of marriage is young; and life expectancy is half of what it is today, childhood certainly looks different. Children during ancient times didn’t stay children for long; not during the Industrial Revolution either. That doesn’t have to be, and in fact, shouldn’t be, the case today.

Today’s 11-Year-Old is the new 20-Year-Old, or is it the opposite?

What does childhood look like for 11-year-olds today? It is much different than our ancient look at this age. It is much different than our medieval and industrial view too. And, of course, there will be some discrepancies and differences globally today, as well. But let’s look at the commonalities we see across what’s known as ‘first world countries.’

Today’s 11-year-olds are in fifth or sixth grade. They are technologically savvy. My own kids at 11 were relied upon for ‘fixing the remote’ or programming the dvd player. Many have learned how to use the dishwasher and wash their own clothes (though this probably lost its appeal quite quickly!).

Eleven-year-olds often start staying home alone, for a few hours. Some have been trusted to do a bit of babysitting for ‘older’ young children, or can be trusted to do some dog walking or simple yard work for others to earn spending money.

Children that are 11 years old have a variety of interests. Some like our daughter become the budding artist during this time; others might enjoy learning something more physical like martial arts.

This is a prime age for martial arts training. An online program could be beneficial, too, with its flexibility to fit most schedules. If you are interested in looking into this or trying a free class, click here to learn more about what we offer in this regard.

The thing to remember, from a mom who’s raised four former 11-year-olds, is that they are still children. We don’t expect our 11-year-olds to work for a living like those poor children of a different time period. In fact, there are child labor laws that prevent this today.

For some, they might say children have grown up even more today. With social media, entertainment on a whim, and fast-paced schedules, many children seem to exude adult behaviors and looks. But does that really change the natural, biological and emotional make-up of 11-year-olds? No way!

What are future expectations for children?

There’s been a backlash to the over scheduling and worldly push on our 11-year-olds, thank God! Much has been said about the tiger-mom and helicopter/lawn-mower parents to put this parental behavior in the negative light it rightly deserves.

Although technology continues to advance (seemingly) our quality of life, the physical and emotional make-up of 11-year-olds hasn’t. This remains constant and as a result, our expectations of 11-year-olds should not change either. Let children be children.

Purpose of Dating

The idea of dating is a more recent term. When it first came about, it was about calendars, not romance. But over the years, the meaning changed to that of romance, or something like that.

As you probably know, most marriages in ‘early days’ were arranged by parents, and were most concerned with the ability to support each other. Traditionally, the male suitor would support his wife financially and she supported him by making a good home-cleaning, cooking, and bearing and taking care of the children.

Dating came about as less marriages were arranged, and men and women dated instead. All for the purpose to meet your future spouse.

Future Spouse and Life Partner

When you date, you get to know the other person, their likes and dislikes, their political and religious views, and their goals and aspirations. You learn about their background and family, and they learn about yours. All of these things are so you can see if you are compatible. This is presumably because you are looking for a life partner.

Some people date more than others, in order to find the compatible partner, but the idea is still there. You date to find each other.

All of this is quite taxing emotionally. Getting your hopes up and then having them crash down can certainly take its toll on the most confident and secure individual.

Do you think an 11-year-old is ready for that? Of course, 11-year-olds are not ‘dating’ or attaching themselves to a boy or girl as in ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ for marriage; we all agree on that. So what’s the point then?

Learning to Adult

Some say that 11-year-olds (or adolescents in general) date or get a boyfriend/girlfriend in order to learn to be an adult, that it’s a rite of passage through teen years. They go so far as to insinuate tweens won’t be able to have a successful adult relationship unless they ‘date’ in the early years. But I say aren’t the tween/teen years turbulent enough without throwing in romantic entanglements!?

What are the skills we learn from dating (or getting a boyfriend or girlfriend)? Well, you learn to put someone else before you. You learn to sacrifice for others. You learn to think about other viewpoints besides your own or your family’s. These are all worthwhile things…if you’re not 11.

Some psychologists go so far as to name skills you SHOULD have before beginning a relationship. Psychology Today says you should be focused; have self-control; organized; and be accomplished. Hmmm, how many 11-year-olds come to mind?

Our 11-Year-Olds (times 4)

Of course, we’ve dealt with the issue of tween/teen dating as parents of four. We have two adult children now and at the time of writing this article, twin 16-year-olds.

We can’t say anything nice about tween/teen dating! In fact, the idea is absurd to us. We know for certain that our daughter had her first boyfriend at 15; and our son had a few relationships in high school. These were not sanctioned, yet we know about them because of the emotional toll they took on their young minds. And then on our family dynamic afterwards!

Even in the most ‘successful’ pairings-and by successful I mean no one committed a crime or crossed boundaries-relationships among tweens and teens will end. Thus, we are back to the psychological and emotional ramifications mentioned above. It is not worth it!

Children, and yes, 11-year-olds are children, have their whole lives ahead of them. As adults, we know what they will face. Bills, job stress, health issues, and so on…it’ll all be there.

I wish for all 11-year-olds to meet their mate early in adulthood so that they can maximize their love life together. But we know that even then, in the best, God-given scenario, that they will still face bills, job-stress, health issues, and so on.

They will argue with their spouse; they will think and say things that will hurt each other…yes, even to the forever-one. That’s okay…because they’ll be ready, ready to make amends and say sorry. Ready to work it out.

Ready to be grown up about the relationship…at least physically and emotionally, that is. So don’t rush it! Let your 11-year-old be a child, even if they get mad at you. That just proves the point, right?

Should An 11-Year-Old Have a Girlfriend, or Boyfriend Wrap Up…

Well, quite clearly, I think no, an 11-year-old should not have a girlfriend, or boyfriend. Let’s briefly look back at why:

  • 11-year-olds are overly dramatic and hyper sensitive to peer pressure
  • 11-year-olds are egocentric according to renowned psychologists, Piaget and Erikson
  • 11-year-olds undergo extensive brain growth, particularly in areas that control social-emotional development
  • Researchers found that adolescents under age 15 who’ve had romantic relationships are more likely to have suicidal tendencies and mental disorders.
  • 11-year-olds in the past had more adult roles due to societal norms of the time; today’s 11-year-olds are afforded a longer childhood.
  • 11-year-olds do not possess the qualities for long-lasting, healthy romantic relationships.

I leave you with the words of 11-year-old Cerys Cooksammy-Parnell, who scored higher than Einstein on the Mensa I.Q. test, “Perhaps when I am really old and past 20 years of age I will have more intellectual conversations where my IQ will assist,” but until then, “my focus will be on fashion, fun and getting good grades.” Notice she didn’t mention boyfriends!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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