Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I have stepped away from my daily column for two weeks to finish writing my next book, which is due to be published next fall. I hope you’ll enjoy these topical “best of” questions and answers while I’m away. Today’s letters deal with the prickly, eternal question of how to handle young love.

DEAR AMY: I am the mother of two daughters who are in their upper elementary years. They seem bothered that they have not been asked out, while other boys and girls are dating. It seems ridiculous that children so young should be boyfriend/girlfriend. What should I do?

Mom in the Middle

DEAR MOM: It’s pretty common at the fifth- and sixth-grade level for girls and boys to become interested in “going out.” I still remember this phenomenon from my elementary years. In fact, I can recall at least five “couples” from my sixth-grade class. Unless they are unusually sexually precocious, girls and boys at this age form fairly harmless alliances.

All of this is practice for the real thing, which is much scarier for parents, but still a few years off for most kids.

Rather than brand this “practice dating” ridiculous, you should ask your girls what they would do if someone asked them out. What does that mean to them? Are there really “dating” couples at school? If they liked a boy, would they ask him out?

Once you listen to what they have to say, you can tell your girls that kids develop at different rates. Some of the most interesting kids are waiting until they are older and more ready for dating, and that’s a good thing, because there is plenty of time for that.

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For now, make sure that your girls have plenty of interests and opportunities outside of dating. Sometimes, girls sort of lose themselves once boys enter the scene, and that’s a shame. You want for them to develop a very strong sense of themselves so that they can make their own smart choices when the time comes.

For preparation for your girls’ adolescence, read “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls,” by Mary Pipher (1995, Ballantine Books) (January 2006)

DEAR AMY: I am a 10-year-old in fifth grade, and I read a letter in your column from a mom who had two daughters in elementary school who were sad they didn’t have boyfriends. Three out of five of my fifth-grade friends have boyfriends. Boyfriends and girlfriends my age don’t really do anything. All we do is to tell everybody we are boyfriend/girlfriend and then maybe hang out at recess with that person. It’s really no big deal — nobody does anything. I thought that this mom should know.

Fifth-Grade Girl

DEAR FIFTH-GRADE GIRL: First of all, thank you for reading the newspaper. You’re off to a great start in terms of your knowledge of and interaction with your world.

And thank you for giving some insight into the romantic world of fifth-graders. As I told this concerned mom, the boyfriend/girlfriend thing in elementary school is just practice for the real dating scene, which doesn’t happen until much later for most kids. We parents don’t want our kids to grow up too fast, so sometimes we freak out when we shouldn’t. But then, you probably knew that already. (February 2006)

DEAR AMY: I just got my license and a car, and I am very happy that I can visit my boyfriend, who lives 25 miles away, whenever I please. The problem is that I have to pay for all my own gas (even for school), while he gets unlimited gas money from his parents. He has offered to pay for part of my gas when I make these trips. I hate borrowing money, so my first reaction was to refuse, but because my job doesn’t start until summer and my lunch money will barely get me to school and back, I can’t afford to drive there. Is it right to accept his offer?

Torn

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DEAR TORN: Take your guy up on his offer to share the gas burden. But this money shouldn’t be considered a “loan.” If he is offering to pitch in, then the two of you should figure out an equitable way for him to do so, just as you would if you were going out to eat or to a movie.

Of course, if he drives to see you, then that takes care of the problem, right? (May 2006)