One day after school, when his mother asked him if he had a girlfriend, 4-year-old Nicholas looked strangely at his father and said, “Dad, do you have to have a girlfriend?”
For Olivia, 7, when one of the parents at the birthday party asked her who was her boyfriend among the guests, she immediately bowed her head and walked away embarrassed, away from the kids she was playing with. The next day at school, she avoided chatting with them because she was embarrassed that anyone might think one of her friends was her boyfriend.
Both of these situations are probably familiar to you, as it is common for adults to ask children such questions. While it is clear that they only want to observe the child’s response, this seemingly innocent question can have an impact on the child’s behavior with others.
The concept of friendship between children
A very powerful way to learn to interact with colleagues. The concept of friendship develops at the stage of development and therefore varies depending on the age of the child. Robert Selman, a professor at Harvard University, has proposed one of the most famous theories in the evolution of friendship.
He suggested that while preschoolers maintain a self-centered attitude towards friendships and friends with whom they share games and the same physical space, sharing preferences and collaboration becomes more important for school-age children. During adolescence, mutual support is even more valuable.
Read more: How do children choose their friends?
Peer relationships contribute to the emotional and social development of everyone by nurturing the feeling of belonging to a group. In childhood, curiosity about one’s own body and the body of others is normal, and during adolescence, sexual exploration is common.
Changes in the nature of peer relationships occur during adolescence, with higher sexual interest. Only then does the friendship develop into a more emotional bond.
Influence of adults
From a young age, there is a preference for homosexual relationships that last until adolescence. Although it is common for children to choose to play with peers of their own sex, this isolation affects their relationships with others.
Adults, through their comments, approve or disapprove of children’s relationships with their peers, giving them conditions. We, perhaps foolishly and without prejudice, influence the relationship between boys and girls.
Read more: Elementary school: How to help a child make friends
While there is a proven preference for same-sex friendships, children from an early age do not blame their relationships with others on anything other than friendships. In fact, a 4-year-old can hardly explain what a boyfriend or girlfriend is; He can even equate this idea with best friends. When an adult uses the expression “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” to nominate a good friend for their child, it creates confusion in the child who, at a young age, learns to recognize his emotions and the feelings of others.
Can’t we be friends?
Asking kids if they have boyfriends or girlfriends can affect how they behave around their friends. By asking such questions, we convey the idea that boys and girls cannot be friends, that playing with people of the opposite sex can make the relationship worse. In this way, we recognize the differences between the two and encourage them to have relationships only with people of the same sex.
Also, we encourage them to avoid cross-sex friends to avoid abusive comments from the rest of the group. Innocent question “Who is your girlfriend?” An 8-year-old boy may reject a female friend with whom he shares games because he does not want to be separated from the group through a close friendship, often involving behaviors that children are ashamed of, such as kissing or holding hands.
Read more: What is the gender of children’s games?
By asking kids if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, we warn them that there is a different way to treat people, which encourages them to change their behavior with their friends.
When we ask kids which boy they like or who their girlfriends are, we normalize the notion that they may have close friends at their age like adults, which encourages children to hypersexualize. We tolerate behaviors that have no place in childhood, support them with our feedback, and encourage them to take on roles that are inconsistent with their developmental stage.
In conclusion, adults should encourage child-friendliness because social connections are one of the strongest protective factors for psychological well-being.
However, explaining children’s social behaviors, such as sharing time and games, such as romantic relationships, can make a difference between them, disrupt their emotional learning, and move them away from friends with whom they share more interests and preferences.