Childhood romance has bitter sweet aspects to it. By childhood, I mean age groups of young children, preadolescents, pre-teens and early teens. Romance can also have grey areas, which could be interpreted and experienced in different ways. As adults, we often joke about childhood romances, but it can also become a serious issue for some children.
Basic human yearnings include love, belongingness, and connection. Children can have romantic feelings and these feelings are very real. It is normal to have a crush over a peer, which may last for weeks to months, or even years!
Usually childhood romance is platonic; it is mostly driven by the instinctive need to connect and to feel cherished. Adolescents and teens like attention and often fantasise adult role models, which may involve teachers, movie stars, and so on. These romances are often short lived, one-sided, and become easy sources of heartbreak after oscillating between love and rejection.
It is part of growing up, and the pain can become a double-edged sword when it comes to self-esteem. Children can be very mean and cruel to each other. Depending on who 'dumps' whom, things can become very ugly in the schoolyard, or draw unsolicited focus of neighbourhood gossip. Small crazy mistakes can get amplified and twisted to the extent that it can psychologically damage someone enough to leave a permanent scar on his/her psyche.
Healthy romantic connections help children to learn the rules of basic human relationships in a social context outside family environment. However, proper parental supervision is essential to guide it in right direction. Absence of age appropriate rules and limits (e. g. no sex, curfew after sunset, no secrecy, limits on phone or internet use, no expensive gift exchange, no slacking off school work, etc.) can set childhood romance on a dangerous path.
When parents come to know about their children's serious romantic relationships, they often feel challenged about how to navigate through the situation. Some helpful tips might include — keeping an honest and open communication, refraining from using harsh language, avoid belittling or ridiculing comments, and expressing your expectations and concerns in a non-confrontational way.
Do not panic unnecessarily or try to exert excessive control by punitive measures because it can simply backfire. It won't hurt to ask and investigate reasonably about your child's sweetheart. Do not sexualise the relationship; rather ensure that both feel comfortable and naturally accepted by both families if possible.
Guide them to do age appropriate things together in family rooms. They can be given some privacy with healthy boundaries, but no secrecy should be entertained.
It is true that some childhood romances have the potential to blossom into real adult relationships. However, do not promote or deter it without genuine reasons, rather let it unfold as is. If your child ends up being heartbroken, offer him/her some comfort by listening and caring. Do not underestimate the pain of young hearts!
Although it sounds sweet, and is often glamorised in movies, novels etc., let’s not forget it can turn bitter quickly as well. Childhood romances can become a scary territory, particularly for unsupervised children.
Child traffickers often use romance to bait young boys or girls. Unlike the common social myth, several reports on human trafficking show that human traffickers are active in all social strata. There are reports of even teenaged children working on behalf of human traffickers or drug traffickers. The most commonly used trick in trafficking is exploitation — sexual, financial, emotional etc. They usually target love deprived children from dysfunctional families who are socially isolated, timid, depressed, etc. Even a small age gap can create serious imbalance of power dynamic in childhood relationships. A bad relationship can haunt a child for a long time. Shame and stigma can make the situation even worse.
We all (or most of us!) love fairytales; we love beautiful tales of 'childhood romance' that conquers all. Unfortunately, we live in a different world, and not all stories have a happy ending. It is important that parents are always watching out for their kids and maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship with some breathing space for both parties.