When I was a kid, I was friends with girls and boys, but that wasn't the norm where I grew up. As a result, I was teased. A lot. I still remember the taunts about me and my friend "sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” or my brother asking me if my friend was my "boyfriend." As a child I was embarrassed, but as a mom I am furious. I want my kids to be friends with anyone they want, regardless of gender. So I won't let another child call my son their boyfriend. Period.
To be honest, I think it's gross for kids to use labels like "boyfriend" with other kids. It also sends them the wrong message about friendships, and the people they're "allowed" to call their friends. It's really bizarre how we — and following our example, our kids — talk about kids by using adult terms and concepts like boyfriend, girlfriend, dates, and even marriage. Can't we just let kids be kids, without projecting adulthood all over them so soon? Besides, gender shouldn't really be a factor in who a child is friends with. And while I believe it's heteronormative to assume that my son is straight and will form romantic relationships with a member of the opposite sex, even if a boy called my son his boyfriend I would have a problem with it. I mean, can we please stop sexualizing our kids?
Recently, I was surprised to hear my older kids (ages 5 - 12) talking about friends at school having boyfriends and girlfriends, and singing the same problematic song from my childhood. When I asked them what it meant to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, they couldn't really answer. They simply don't understand what a romantic relationship entails. That's just one of the many reasons why I won't let another child call my son their boyfriend, including the following:
Because Gender Doesn't Matter
It's so weird how our culture puts so much value on the gender binary when it comes to making choices about who we want to be friends with, starting pretty much from birth. While I had a ton of friends who were boys in elementary school, at some point my groups of friends broke apart along gender lines, and my friendships with boys got weird. It actually makes me really sad when I think about it.
Because It Changes How Kids Interact With One Another
I also think that a child calling my son their "boyfriend" places artificial limits on the nature of their friendship and how they play. It doesn't have to be that way.
Because Gender Shouldn't Dictate Friendships
I don't think we should encourage our kids to think that they can only be friends with kids of the same gender, and have to have some sort of romantic relationship to spend time with someone who isn't. It makes me wonder if kids would make the same choices about friendships if we, as parents, didn't reinforce these messages about gender roles and stereotypes. I honestly don't know.
Because My Son Is Too Young To Understand
When I ask my kids what a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" actually is, they clearly don't really understand. They are still too young to get it, and I don't want them to feel pressured to conform to these ideas about relationships, especially if they don't understand the terminology. Besides, they are too young for the things that typically go along with having a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Because It’s Usually Heteronormative
It's actually really offensive that we start labeling boy-girl relationships as romantic, when we have no idea if those boys or girls are straight, or will ever be interested in being someone's boyfriend or girlfriend. It's so presumptive, and heteronormative, and wrong.
Because Kids Deserves To Just Be Friends
Why does gender need to even be a consideration when it comes to who our sons (or daughters) form friendships with? The answer, I think, is that it absolutely doesn't have to. I have both daughters and sons with varying interests, personalities, and don't always fit within gender stereotypes. They have a variety of friends of a variety of genders, but as they get older I am hearing more push-back about it. When we let kids label those friendships as romantic, simply because of the other person's gender, we are telling them subtly that gender matters... when it really shouldn't.
Because My Son Doesn't Like It
One of the main reasons why I hate when another child calls my son their boyfriend, is that it makes him uncomfortable and embarrassed. I don't want him to be teased for liking a girl, but I also don't want him to feel pressured to be called someone's boyfriend, either. It's not OK.
Because We Have To Stop Sexualizing Our Kids
When we project adult feelings, concepts, and expectations on our kids — like romantic love, dating, and behaving in a certain way around people — we contribute to a culture that sexualizes kids. It's part of the same culture that calls a toddler's two-piece bathing suit revealing, and jokes about marrying off your baby to your BFF's kid. It seems innocent, sure, but it's not. I don't understand why we can't just let kids be kids, and leave ideas about adult relationships out of our conversations about their friendships.