Care and Feeding

My Crush Is in 11th Grade; I’m in eighth. Can We Date?

I think I’m mature for my age, but I’m worried what people will say.

Eight-grade girl making heart hands and looking up.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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,

Hey! I’m a middle schooler in a crush predicament. As you know, middle school can get pretty hectic with who your hormones choose to be your next crush. Now, here’s my issue. I’m in eighth grade, but I’m told I have higher emotional intelligence and maturity than most of my peers. This is why I potentially just attracted an 11th grader. It also may be why I like him too.
My school merges high school and middle school, which is how we met. I find him really adorable and sweet, plus he’s really shy and gets all giddy around me.

A three-year age difference wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I didn’t go to a Christian school. A few other girls in my grade are dating high schoolers, but they get teased for it. Mind you, if I was in a relationship with him, I wouldn’t expect it to last past his graduation. ’Cause let’s face it, relationships like that aren’t long term often. My other issue is my parents. I could tell them he skipped a grade, and they may be fine with it, but I can see why they’d be weird about me dating someone who can drive, nevertheless someone who they’ve never seen in person. Another issue: Tonight we lost our playoff game, which means I won’t be in color guard for the rest of the year, and I won’t see him nearly as often.

So to wrap that all up, my questions are: Is this crush OK? How (and should I) act on it? How should I deal with it among my family and social scene? If this becomes a thing, how could I spend time with him in a noncreepy way? (Believe me, this guy drinks “respect women” juice in his coffee so I know I can trust him. And if I couldn’t, my dad taught me how to put someone in a headlock when I was 7). Thank you in advance for your advice!

—Crush Calamity

Dear C.C.,

Oh, pumpkin. I so wish I could answer this for you over some hot chocolate and then take you to the mall for a little retail therapy. (That may be a little bit of a spoiler for how I’m going to respond.)

You didn’t cite your ages, but I’m going to assume they are 12 and 15 or 13 and 16. A three-year difference will become increasingly insignificant later in your life, but right now, the age gap between you and your crush represents about one-fourth of the time that you’ve been on this planet. Furthermore, even though you may attend the same school, there is a somewhat drastic contrast in lifestyle between the average middle-schooler and 11th grader—the driving, be it unsupervised, or in preparation to be, is just but one example.

There’s a big difference between exchanging googly eyes with someone you barely know in the hall and dating them, as well as a big difference in how a 12- or 13-year-old might “date” versus how someone in their next-to-last-year of living at home would function in a courtship. I can’t imagine your parents being OK with allowing this relationship in the first place. But even if they were, I’d imagine you have an earlier curfew than this boy, that you couldn’t go anywhere with him in his car (this alone could be a legal issue, depending where you live), and that while your friends might get tired of teasing you about this, his friends would—and absolutely should—give him an incredibly hard time.

But without getting into the topic of sex, or further worrying over why this relationship would be so taboo, let me step back and remind you that what is before you now is not necessarily the makings of a romance. This boy gets shy and giddy around you, which likely means that he finds you charming in some significant way; but that doesn’t mean that he’d be willing to endure all of the challenges that would be put before a high school student trying to date a middle school kid. Please do not overly invest in the notion that he is going to want to take this flirtation to the next level before it would be considered appropriate to do so.

In fact, if this is the sort of guy you should want to be dating, he’s going to be mature enough to acknowledge that while he thinks you’re awesome, that the timing is not right and won’t be until you’re a little older. As in, old enough to actually date. Depending on the timing of your birthdays and your parents’ rules, that could come as soon as next school year, when you’ll both be high schoolers. However, you should not lose sight of the fact that no matter how more “mature” you may be relative to your peers, life experience does count and three short years can give a senior the sort of advantage that might not be in your best interest.

There’s a possibility that this dude is a nice guy, maybe a little immature for his age. But there’s also the potential for him to be a super creep who is checking out a significantly younger girl with bad intentions. Older people sometimes feel like they can take advantage of younger ones, and a lot of guys know how to guzzle down enough “respect women juice” to talk a good game, only to treat actual women and girls poorly. There’s a risk that comes with dating any human being, regardless of their age or gender, sure, but it is infinitely higher when the power dynamics between a couple are as imbalanced as they would be between you and this guy.

So to answer your specific questions: 1) Is this crush OK? Sure, possibly … but only if you’re able to handle waiting a while before so much as attempting to take it any further than that. Childhood crushes do not usually lend themselves to actual relationships, but they can help you to recognize some of the things you value and desire in a boyfriend so that you know what to look for when it’s time to look. And those butterflies in your tummy are something to be treasured, and hopefully, remembered fondly when this moment is in your life’s rearview mirror.

2) How/should you act on it? By keeping things as they are now. Don’t ask him out, don’t tell him how you feel, and if he decides to make a move, put that superior maturity to the test and explain that you dig him, but that the age difference makes things between you impossible at this point in time.

3) How do you manage family and your social scene with regards to this? Not only are your parents a barrier, but you’ve said yourself that kids at school have jokes for the girls who date high school guys. You will not win those battles, and these relationships are one of many reasons why a romance with this dude is not in the cards right now.

4) “If this becomes a thing, how could I spend time with him in a noncreepy way?” Baby girl, you can’t. You just can’t.

If this young man is truly meant to be a part of your life, then you’ll find a way toward each other when you’re old enough to walk through the Shake Shack together without worrying that he could be arrested, or that your parents will have a fit, or that your respective friend circles will die of laughter. The time isn’t now, unfortunately, and that may hurt to accept, but the sooner you do, the better.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

This is an extremely low-stakes question, but I thought I’d ask. My 2-year-old will not wear gloves or mittens, will not put her hands in her pockets, and will not hold onto hand warmers. Yet she is pretty sensitive to cold, and once her hands get cold, she cries at the park and all the way home. We live in Chicago, and so are in the early days of six months of cold. Any suggestions?

—We’d Like to Go Outside

Dear W.L.t.G.O.,

Hey, you. You’re the boss here. It may not always feel like it with a 2-year-old, but you are. You don’t go to the park without the gloves on. You don’t waver on this requirement for leaving the house on a 30-degree day. The gloves are not up for discussion. You gently, but intentionally, put them on her little hands and explain that she will lose his fingers if she doesn’t wear them. Her fingers will literally fall off. This is the end of the conversation.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old who will probably be doing remote learning for the rest of the school year. We’ve had to be a bit stricter on social distancing than their friends have because my younger daughter has pretty severe asthma that makes getting sick with a cough or the flu dangerous, and the increased vigilance has been very hard on my older daughter. She’s a competitive soccer player who plays on her school’s varsity team, and her coaches have said they think she has a good shot at a scholarship. But since we don’t have a big backyard, she’s only able to practice infrequently at our neighborhood park. Her school has announced that they’re starting up socially distanced practices for teams on the field, with masks required, and she’s been asking to sign up.

My 11-year-old is very distressed about this and has been telling her sister that if she goes to practice, that means she wants her to get sick. I feel torn. I really don’t know how secure a mask will be while playing a sport that requires lots of running and jostling, and we’ve been really trying to be diligent about social distancing to keep our youngest safe. But the scholarships that our older daughter practices diligently to have a shot at could mean the difference between student loans or not, and not getting to practice or see her teammates has really taken a toll. While I mostly trust my daughter and her teammates, I don’t know if they’ll be able to stay 6 feet apart all the time. Plus, my younger daughter is now terrified. My husband thinks we should let our older daughter go to practices, but I am on the fence. What should we do?

—To Practice or Not to Practice

Dear T.P.o.N.t.P,

I think you know the answer to this question already. Even if the adults enforce all of the CDC’s recommendations for youth sports, there is still an increased risk for transmission of COVID-19 because the more people you gather with, the higher the chances are that you will encounter someone who has it. You have a child who is not only high-risk, but aware of it and afraid that she may get this potentially deadly illness in the service of her sister playing soccer. I highly doubt you’d say that a scholarship or access to friends should mean more to your eldest daughter than the safety of her little sister, so you shouldn’t act in a way that implies otherwise.

Paying for a child to go to college is a daunting proposition for most parents, and we’re going to have to face the reality that the two academic years (to date) that have been largely upended by the pandemic will force some families to have to adjust their plans accordingly. Talk to your daughter’s coach and guidance counselor. Explain that a soccer scholarship is an important goal and see what sort of options you may have to keep your daughter competitive without having to put her sister in added danger. Good luck to you all.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My bright and social 11-year-old daughter is in the full throes of puberty, and she has reached a phase in her life where she’s sort of … stopped washing. She showers every day, but she often comes out smelling as she did before she got in, and her hair, in particular, is stringy and greasy. I’ve certainly taught her the ins and outs of hygiene, so there really isn’t any excuse I can think of for this except stubbornness (which she has a double dose of) and general kid rebellion. She swears she’s using soap and shampoo, but it’s increasingly clear this isn’t true. It has become A Thing in our family now as other relatives are commenting about this as well. I remember kids in my youth being bullied for poor hygiene, and I don’t want this for her, nor do I want to be her bully. Distance learning has saved her from mean comments from her schoolmates, fortunately, but in the meantime, I just don’t know how to help her understand the importance of basic hygiene.

— My Sweet Baby Is Unclean

Dear M.S.B.I.U.,

You have to confront this directly. Explain to your daughter that you can tell, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is either being dishonest about bathing or that she, somehow, does not know how to do it properly. Be blunt. Tell her that she smells bad, her hair looks unclean, and that if you notice, then other people can too. Remind her how cruel kids can be about this sort of thing, and also explain that being unclean can lead folks, such as her teachers, to make assumptions about her home life that are untrue.

Though this is a common issue among kids her age, there’s also the possibility that there’s something going on with your daughter emotionally or physically that is making it hard for her to bathe properly. When you talk to her, be sure to check in for signs that this is more than a matter of a kid finding it more enjoyable to sit on her toilet watching TikToks than to go through all the trouble of taking off one’s clothes and getting wet and soapy, only to have to dry oneself off and get dressed again. If so, speak to a professional about appropriate next steps.

Otherwise, take her to Target and allow her to pick out the soap, shampoo, and washcloths/sponges of her preference; be sure to include some basic skincare stuff too and to be prepared to explain to her how to wash her face separately from her behind. Get in the habit of standing outside the bathroom—or even outside of the shower, if it comes to it—and checking for signs of bathing: a used towel, damp, clean-smelling skin, wet hair, etc.
Hopefully, the solution here is simply creating and enforcing rules, aka “the worst part of parenting.” Wishing you the best for a better smelling baby girl in the near future.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I cuss a lot, as does my husband. It’s the norm in our respective industries and communities. I’d say we were “heavier users” of profanity. I feel words only have power if you choose to give them power. We live in the buckle of the Bible Belt. My older son was always allowed to use curse words. It was never an issue. He’s got social and generalized anxiety so we flew under the radar. Until now: He’s 9, going into fourth grade, and he cusses at home. Not excessively but enough that our 3-year-old is playing repeat. I’m worried about what she’ll say in her new pre-K class next year. I’m feeling a little wobbly navigating a “pottymouth” who doesn’t bother me but will likely offend others.