School threatens to punish kids who have boyfriends or girlfriends

Mar 7, 2016 at 1:18 p.m. ET
Image: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

There's something cute about third-graders insisting on sitting next to each other on the bus or a kindergartner declaring that so-and-so is their "girlfriend" or "boyfriend." It's almost always short-lived and typically falls under the category of adorably harmless, right between "bunnies in dinosaur costumes" and "jumping in mud puddles," right? Wrong, says one Texas school. Those little crushes are nothing short of education-derailing "relationships" and could be punishable by after-school detention.

Parents are fuming at a note that threatens students at Holiday Heights Elementary School in Dallas with detention or even a Saturday school session for crushing on their peers. The note, which was sent out by an overzealous first-year principal, calls on parents to curb "distracting" behaviors in their kids, which include but aren't limited to:

  • Going steady/dating another student
  • Discussion of others dating (boyfriend/girlfriend talk)
  • Spreading rumors or messages of "who likes who"
  • Showing public displays of affection (holding hands, passing love notes, bringing gifts, etc.)
Looks like the only thing missing is a directive to not "write another student's name on notebook cover or surround peer's name with ornately doodled hearts and/or flowers."

Far from being on board with quashing behavior that results in what the principal is calling "distractions resulting from the students allowing themselves to get caught up in romantic issues and the drama that follows," some parents — including a former educator — are calling the potential punishment for hand-holding and note-passing "harsh."

After all, young crushes are hardly rare. If your own child is in school already and hasn't had a crush or a case of puppy love yet, hold on, because it's coming soon. It's totally normal for kids to start having romantic feelings that are a strange clash between tummy butterflies and cootie avoidance as young as 5 or 6. Knowing how to handle it can even give you a deer-in-headlights kind of feeling: Do you ignore it? Make light of it? Encourage it? Threaten them with the same punishment they would get for lobbing spitballs if they refuse to knock it off right now?

Here's a hint: not that last one, OK?

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Most experts will tell you that the best way to go about navigating the choppy waters of who likes whom is to help your kids understand that what they're feeling is normal, refrain from making them feel like they're doing something wrong and then move on. Your kids eventually will. They'll move right on to the next one over and over again, so if the thought of your child making moon eyes at another kid makes you nervous, you should start coming up with a strategy to cope.

We think we can all agree that while the principal's heart might be in the right place — he's only trying to keep the school day on track, after all — his execution is both wrongheaded and futile.

First, it's pretty much a case study in how not to react when two little kids like each other. For instance, where he encourages parents to "remind [kids] that although it is okay to play with all kids, it is NOT okay to be 'going out/dating' or talking about this in elementary school."


That's a distinction that kids just don't necessarily have the capacity to draw. Like it or not, by treating normal behavior like it's wrong or inappropriate is going to mess with little heads.

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Second, it's hard to think of a more futile pursuit. Telling little kids to stop crushing on one another and giggling about it is like trying to command the sun to stand still. You can do it, but you're going to look nuts in the process. You're going to feel nuts. School is primarily a learning space, but it's also an agent for social development. It should be that way, and it's one of the many things parents consider when they're deciding to put their kid in public school.

As long as the learning is happening, it may not be worth it to get too up in arms if fourth-graders are asking their peers to check the appropriate hand-drawn box on a "do you like me?" note, planning their future on a MASH board or founding an elementary chapter of the PEN15 club.