Care and Feeding

My 10-Year-Old Daughter Has a Boyfriend, and They’re Kissing

The relationship seems innocent enough, but I feel like she’s too young for physical contact. Should I make them stop?

A young girl and a young boy face each other.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old daughter has a boyfriend. He is her age, and they are both sweet kids. They spend most of their time climbing trees, playing with friends, and doing other typical 10-year-old things. She’s very open to me, which is good. I think she’s a little young, but I also know kids this age “like” each other, and it’s no big deal. She sees him at school, and we occasionally do group things with his family. Tonight, she told me that they sometimes kiss. On the lips. And he asks her if it’s OK for him to do this. Consent is good, yes? But … I think this is too young to be kissing, and I’m not sure how to react. She told me this happened on the bus during a school trip and during a family gathering with lots of other kids running around. I don’t want to overreact or risk shutting down her openness. It seems innocent and sweet, but she’s 10, and I’m not sure if this is OK! I need guidance!

—Mystified Mom

Dear MM,

I reckon the mother who, years ago, thought it was adorable when her 4-year-old had a “husband” in her class should throw the last stone, but I’m heaving that rock nonetheless.

I don’t want to downplay the significance of young love (or “love”); there is something truly delightful, and pure and innocent, about these two being sweet on each other. And yes, kudos to whoever got through to this little boy about consent at such an early age—all 10-year-olds should know to ask before touching anyone! Alas, kissing is not the kind of touch you want these two to be sharing on a regular basis. Furthermore, the boyfriend-girlfriend title gives this relationship a bit more weight than these young shoulders can likely handle.

Ten-year-olds are smack in the middle of prepubescence. They are sounding more and more like reasonable little adults, but they are still very young children who don’t have the emotional maturity typically befitting someone who is ready for a romantic relationship.

Also, wanting to spend a lot of time together or dancing with each other exclusively at the sock hop is one thing, but kissing? It isn’t that many other children haven’t had their first smooch around this age, but something about calling this friendship a “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship and your daughter admitting to these (hopefully) pecks is super anxiety-inducing for even me, who generally has a more liberal attitude than most when it comes to kids and the inevitable exploration of romance and sex.

I think you’d do best to affirm the validity of your child’s feelings toward this boy while encouraging her to reimagine him as her “special friend” or “BFF” as opposed to her boyfriend. You should also speak to his parents—check in with her to ensure there isn’t some sort of threat of imminent danger that may befall him if they find out about his Romeo-like behavior—and agree to some reasonable, age-appropriate terms for this friendship.

It’s fine for you to take them to a movie or let them hang out at a mall together. And yes, they’ll likely sneak in a kiss again at some point, with each other or with the new partners they’ve swapped in next week. But you need to establish that kissing is not yet appropriate, that it is not parentally approved and, if you deem it necessary, that there may be consequences if they are caught doing it again.

However, do not chastise, shame, or express disappointment in your daughter for having locked lips with this boy already. Commend her for her honesty. Talk about how special a first kiss can be, but emphasize how that level of physical contact is just above her pay grade at this point. Explain that you are insisting on these boundaries not to clip her wings, but to keep her safe. Good luck, Mama.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ex-husband and I have been on somewhat opposite ends of the parenting-style spectrum since he remarried a few years ago. Our youngest is 16 and (in my opinion) very mature and responsible. She currently has straight A’s, has worked the same job for over a year, and has never been in any trouble. At my house, she has a lot of freedom: It’s just the two of us, and as long as she stays in contact, she can spend time with her friends or boyfriend (not alone at our house) when it works with her schedule.

At her dad’s, on the other hand, everything is tightly controlled, from her calendar, to her technology use, to her spending choices. She gets 15 minutes of texting a day, she is not allowed to download any apps without approval, and all of her apps are programmed to shut down at 10 p.m., even on weekends. Her dad considers her “irresponsible” because she spends more of her earnings from her part-time job on social outings than he would prefer.

When our daughter purchased her first car, she borrowed a few hundred dollars from her father and his new spouse, and they required that she turn over 95 percent of her paycheck to them until it was paid back. (This plan wasn’t communicated until the car was purchased.) Her car has since died, and my parents have offered to loan her the money to buy another one. My ex has refused to agree to their offer thus far because he’s afraid my parents will forgive part of the loan if our daughter has trouble making the payments. (My parents have suggested an amount that is about one-fifth of her monthly income.) I say it should be her decision, and he doesn’t agree.

What’s appropriate for a teenager at this age? Next year is her last year of high school, and I’m afraid she isn’t being allowed to make decisions appropriate for her age level. Am I being unreasonable?

—Co-Parenting Stinks

Dear CPS,

You aren’t being unreasonable. Alas, the most “stinky” part of co-parenting, perhaps, is the lack of jurisdiction we have over our counterpart’s parenting choices. While significant matters like teen car ownership or after-school jobs often require some level of agreement between the respective parenting parties, things such as screen time and household schedules are typically up to the parent in charge at that moment, regardless of what the other one might prefer.

Just as you are perturbed by your ex-husband’s strict rules for your daughter, he’s likely made uncomfortable by the relative freedom she experiences with you. However, the person who suffers most is, of course, baby girl, because she likely sees the tension between the two of you and may feel some anxiety related to the inconsistency in the two households.

It’s OK for you to make it clear that you disagree with his stance on the loan from your parents, and it’s obvious that you don’t have the same approach to a number of issues. It may even be tempting to commiserate with her about how “unreasonable” her dad is being about the loan (and I agree with you that he is, but back to that in a second) and/or his general strictness. However, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you refrain from complaining about your ex—and his new partner, regardless of whether this person is largely responsible for these rules, or merely complicit in them—with your child.

Attempt to engage your ex (and his partner, if appropriate) about why you feel so strongly about the loan refusal, and explain that it’s part of what feels to you like a refusal to allow your daughter to make age-appropriate decisions. Tell him that you wish to be more collaborative and in better alignment with some of the rules that govern your respective households. As far as the loan goes, your daughter has proved herself to be responsible. It sounds likely that she requires transportation to the job where she earned the money her father made her pay back, and her loss of a vehicle likely has ramifications for the adults and/or peers who are left to shuttle her around. Be especially clear about why it’s important to the two (or three) of you that she has a reliable vehicle all her own.

If all that fails—and this may be controversial—I am of the opinion that as long as both parents have agreed that it’s OK for your daughter to own a car at all, that you are well within your right to allow her to take the loan from your parents without Dad’s permission. Your parents made the offer, you will ensure that your daughter fulfills the obligation to return the money, and that’s that. Good luck!

If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a new mom, and I have a low-stakes problem. My daughter is 9 months old. My mom threw me a baby shower when I was about 35 weeks pregnant and … I never sent out the thank-you cards.

Here’s some context: 1) My daughter had to be delivered early—about two weeks after the shower—due to my high blood pressure; 2) My mom lost the sheet of paper where she wrote who brought what gift; 3) I am a huge procrastinating perfectionist, so without the data to do the thank-you cards correctly (“Thank you so much for the waterproof changing table cover! I’m sure it will come in handy for blowouts!”), I put it off forever, and now I have a 9-month-old. For the record, gifts received in the mail did get thank-you notes, and obviously I thanked the shower attendees in person.

Am I awful? Is it OK to get swept up in newbornhood and forget these notes? It would be weird to send our generic “thank you” cards now, right? Must I live with this guilt forever?

—New Mom Problems

Dear MNP,

Girl, bye. You’re fine. Fine. If you’d like, I could send you a stack of the birth announcements I failed to mail out seven years ago to prove it. If you get those cards out before sending invites to a 1st birthday party, you’re winning.

Anyone who presents gifts to a new parent should accept that this is an incredibly hectic time period, during which the traditional rules of etiquette aren’t always a priority. Some of the folks who went to your shower don’t remember what they bought you almost a year later anyway.

Send a postcard (I like Postable because I don’t have to physically touch anything but my computer and my credit card) with a newborn photo so that everyone has one, and address it with a one-size-fits-all note explaining that the baby came a little early, you’re sorry for the delay in expressing your gratitude for the outpouring of love you received at your shower, and you look forward to introducing those who haven’t met your pumpkin in person to her in the near future.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife is an avowed atheist who has strongly negative opinions about all religions. She often says there is something wrong with anyone who believes in “an invisible person in the sky.”

Growing up, my family was very involved in a lefty church. We believed in science, had a lesbian minister (in the 80s), kept a bowl of condoms in the foyer, and didn’t even have a firm position on whether Jesus existed.

I’ve only attended church once since my wife and I have been together. She complained about it for months, which hurts as I’ve never judged her beliefs.

For a few years, I have felt a spiritual gulf. A friend of mine recently became a minister, and, honestly, that has made me really want to start attending church again. How can I broach this with my wife without her belittling me? I don’t want to go secretly, but I have made my mind up that this is something I would like back in my life.

I don’t want to bring our son, convert her, or even talk about religion at home. The denomination I’d like to go to is fully in line with our family’s progressive values, and our firm belief in science.

—Gotta Have Faith

Dear GHF,

I think the way you articulated your feelings here is the way that you should explain them to your wife. There is something missing from your life, something that brought you a feeling that you are lacking and want to recapture. Set the tone for the dialogue by establishing that you need to be heard out and not belittled for these feelings, and that just as you respect her right to reject religion, you need her to respect your desire to reengage with it—especially considering that you aren’t looking to bring your child into the fold or force anything upon her either.

Best wishes to you, and congrats for prioritizing your spiritual needs even when it feels complicated.

—Jamilah

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