He’s not my boyfriend, he’s my buddy.

12 Jun

There was a struggle at bedtime at my house the other night, but it didn’t involve the usual “one more story,” stalling or “can I have a glass of water?” Nope. The struggle went a little like this:

“Mommy, Lucy’s boyfriend Noah is going to Kindergarten with me. He doesn’t even know me, but I know who he is because she showed me a picture of him.”

“You know, there are no boyfriends in Kindergarten, right? Everyone gets to be buddies.”

“No mom.  He’s her boyfriend. Lucy LOVES him.”

“Is this something you’re seeing on TV?”

“It’s not on TV mom! Everyone says.”

“Everyone says what?”

“Like Zoey and Anna and Sasha and Olivia. They all say.”

“What do they say?”

“You know…”

“I don’t know. Tell me.”

“Well Nate used to be Sasha’s boyfriend, but then they broke-up.”

“What does that mean?”

“They just broke-up! Forget it…”

“It doesn’t sound very nice to ‘break-up’ with someone. Does that mean you’re no longer friends? Girls and boys can have a lot of fun being friends together, right? You have just as much fun playing with Olivia as you do with Jack, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know, but Noah’s Lucy’s boyfriend.”

“Well maybe you know something some of your friends don’t know. Maybe you can tell your friends that boys and girls can be just friends – everyone can be buddies.”

Mom…..Can I go to bed now?”

And just like that, my five-year-old shut it down. Thinking back on it, I can see why – she was really excited about this “boyfriend/girlfriend” idea, and I was clearly not supporting her new game. Typically, I’m all for imaginative play, but this boyfriend business does not sit well with me. If my five year-old starts to believe that interacting with a boy means he’s her “boyfriend,” there’s really no room for a true friendship to grow. There will, however, be room for discomfort, embarrassment and avoidance.

Photo Credit: MS Office Images

I think it’s important to model healthy, balanced and loving relationships.  But I also think it’s important to model age-appropriate friendships. When we jokingly impose the idea of romance on children’s relationships and exaggerate their feelings towards one another  – “Look at those little lovebirds over there playing so nicely. Can’t you just see them walking down the aisle?” –  we make it pretty difficult for boys and girls to see each other as viable playmates let alone feel comfortable with one another.

Sometimes it just takes one child to turn the tide in a group setting, ensuring that the gender lines are drawn.  We all remember our peers turning innocent friendships into something they weren’t   –  “Hillary and Jason sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G….”  If boyfriend/girlfriend games go unchallenged by adults, they can easily affect the norms of a classroom or a group. Without interference, it’s easy to see how these beliefs snowball among peers – especially if kids lack another way to think about other-sex friends.

And the thing is boys and girls should be friends! Research has shown that kids who have positive mixed-sex friendships prove to be better socially adjusted, more comfortable approaching and interacting with other-sex peers and feel more competent in mixed-sex environments. As parents and teachers, we can help normalize the boy-girl friendship dynamic. We can arm our kids with alternative ways for referring to other-sex friends, and prepare them with retorts, like, “He’s not my boyfriend. He’s my buddy.” We can be mindful of the messages our kids receive about friendships and relationships (from media, peers, and siblings as well as from ourselves), and seek out examples of healthy balanced relationships and images that depict boys and girls interacting in positive ways.* We can intentionally plan opportunities for boys and girls to work, play, cooperate, collaborate and have fun with each other WITHOUT insinuating that there is anything romantic about it.

I acknowledge the fact that at a certain point in development (aka “puberty”) many boys and girls do become interested in romantic relationships. But whether or not girls and boys grow to become romantically interested in one another, they will grow to be women and men who will interact in many different ways – school, work, communities, families… So think about how much more positive, successful and productive those interactions would be if boys and girls grew-up as buddies,sharing the important experiences of working, playing, problem solving and communicating WITH each other.

Photo Credit: Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies

*There are some great parents and organizations working hard to create positive images of boys and girls and communicate healthy messages about relationships. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the fine work being done by our friend Melissa Wardy at Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies. Definitely check out her new Cannonball line of designs featuring boys and girls playing together!

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13 Responses to “He’s not my boyfriend, he’s my buddy.”

  1. Melissa Wardy June 13, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    Great post, Hillary! Both my son and daughter enjoy same and opposite gender friendships right now. My daughter, our oldest, has never been teased by our family for loving any of her playmates, having crushes on them, etc. I see so much value in her being able to communicate, enjoy, and respect her male peers. I have always had guy friends in my life, but there are times when it caused problems with my female friends. So many girls only know how to relate to boys in a romantic/sexual way, and they saw me as a threat to their status with these guys. Our kids need to see and experience fun, healhty friendships with boys and girls.

    • Hillary Manaster June 13, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks Melissa! I agree with you 100% – our kids do need to see and experience fun, healthy friendships with boys and girls. And thank you for sharing this post with the PPBB community – I’m loving the conversation happening on you FB page!

  2. Laura J June 13, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    My almost 5 year old has many boyfriends. She uses the word in the very literal sense: they are boys who are friends. She also has many girlfriends. I am fine with it – she isn’t imposing any romantic or sexual meaning to the term, not do the other kids she hangs out with. We have even had a sleepover with one of her male playmates. I realize, though, that your daughter was using the term more in the way grownups and older kids would use it. We do know another girl the same age who has been insisting Justin Beiber is her boyefriend since was 3.
    My daughter did however, declare she had a “fiance” at the beginning of the preschool year. I was taken aback by that, but understood it to be an innocent venture into fantasy. She likes to pretend she is an astronaut, a dinosaur, a princess, a superhero, a pirate, and apparently sometimes, a bride. 🙂
    With the whole boyfriend/girlfriend issue – I am uncomfortable with the distinction of gender. Why doesn’t she just say, “my friend, George,” instaed of “my boyfriend, George?” I believe it is because society doesn’t expect girls and boys to be friends. Often when she is telling a story about a friend, one of the first questions she will get is, “Is George a boy or a girl?”
    Last night, we went to meet the Sea Scout troop she will join in the fall. My mom, another mom, and the troop leader ALL said – see there are other girls here you can play with. Grrr .. .

    • Hillary Manaster June 13, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      You bring up a very good point – many folks really don’t expect boys and girls to be friends. I really think that if we communicate the idea that boys and girls can and should be friends, children will rise to meet our expectations.

  3. Mary Juárez-Dalton June 13, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Thank you so much for these words! I am an avid reader and supporter of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies and that’s how I found this blog. (Thanks Melissa for sharing the link) Just after my daughter turned one, I entered the church where I work to a chorus of “we found a boyfriend for your daughter”. There was a beloved long-distance visitor who brought her grandson for the first time. I smiled and almost didn’t address it at that moment as church was about to start, but then I turned to the women and said, “She’s only one! Let her grow first.” I had hoped that might turn on a light bulb that she needs to learn to do so much– like walk and talk and get really dirty and play and blow bubbles and be a kid– first before the word “boyfriend” enters her world. That was not the case, as the reply was “he is too,” with almost a conspiratorial wink. The implication was that if they are close to the same age then they should be matched, regardless of the inappropriateness of the romantic comment or the children’s own ability to play together without that overtone. I was unable to continue the conversation as worship began and I’m the pastor, but it made it difficult for me to switch focus and do my job well. As it turns out, they children didn’t even interact at all, as the guest had to leave early. There is so much I want for my little girl and I’m still learning who she is as she is becoming able to express her wants/needs now. Never have I even considered a boyfriend! A friend that’s a boy, yes. Buddies of all kinds, yes. Kids with disabilities or who speak a different language or who understand God differently than we do, or who have mohawks or paint their hair purple, or ARE JUST KIDS, yes. The ability to converse, explore, play, and resolve conflicts with boys and girls will foster important skills for the future, but not with any sort of adult-projected romantic/sexual overtone.

    • Hillary Manaster June 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      Thank you for sharing this story! I think many of us can relate to uncomfortable exchanges like the one you described. It sounds like you handled it beautifully. Even if you didn’t get the response you were hoping for, I’m sure your sentiment had an impact on others in the crowd. I just love your outlook and expectations for you daughter – having lots of different kinds of buddies will foster important skills for the future. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  4. When the Kids Go To Bed June 13, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I was just talking to my son about “buddies.” He always tells me the boys he plays with at school but not the girls. I had to explain AGAIN that boys and girls can be friends too. It doesnt mean they have to be dubbed boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re 6!! Then he included his friends Tess and Amanda…they played the game too.

    • Hillary Manaster June 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Love it! Sometimes kids just need a little help with the words 🙂

  5. Sixty Second Parent (@60secondparent) June 14, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    I hate it when relatives ask my daughter ‘who is your boyfriend at school’? or if she talks about a boy they say “ohhhhh is that your boyfriend”? She has been asked this since she was in preschool! I can see she is uncomfortable when they ask and is unsure how to answer. She doesn’t think of boys like that – she has lots of friends, both boys and girls. I try to point out her age and that it is not appropriate for young children to have boyfriends at 7, but they don’t get it really – they think I am just being silly.

    • Hillary Manaster June 15, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      It’s so tricky, right? You know these relatives love and want the best for your child. These comments aren’t meant to be hurtful or harmful, yet make they really make kids uncomfortable and put them at odds with each other.

      Sent from my iPad

  6. morecompassion June 14, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Your blog was the first time I saw this issue raised, and it has really caught my consciounness since. You make so many good points. Now that I’m thinking about it differently, I can’t believe how often I see people making “ooooh la la” comments about toddlers, babies, or young children of the opposite sex. Thanks for making me aware!

  7. Caryn Caldwell June 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Wow. Some really strong points. I’ve been known to joke with some of my friends about my daughter’s relationships with boys, but maybe I shouldn’t even joke within hearing distance of her.

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