"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
February 18, 2013
Young Love
by Melissa Howell

My daughter couldn’t stand it anymore; she demanded to know the object of her brother’s affection. He’d been holding out on her, but finally proffered a trade:

“Fine, I’ll tell you if you tell me who your boyfriend is.”

Before I go any further, may I point out that they are seven (she) and nine (he). You will notice the absence of the word ending –teen in their ages.

“My boyfriend is one of the BYU dancers, the one with the blond hair,” she admitted.

(The BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre had just been in town and we saw them at a community show, and then they performed two days later at our elementary school.)

“That’s not a boyfriend,” my son said. “You’re in first grade and he’s in college!”

My son then admitted his crush on a girl in his class we’ll call Meg.

“Mom,” he later said to me, “you know how Charlie Brown is around that red-headed girl and he gets so embarrassed and nervous and he can’t talk to her? That’s how I am around Meg.”

The Charlie Brown theme continued when I told him about a time I was in seventh grade speech class, and we had to put on a play. I was cast as Lucy (was it the voluminous dark brown hair and big mouth?), and a boy on whom I had a terribly big crush, we’ll call him Casey, was cast as Schroeder.

I, Lucy, had to lean on Schroeder’s piano, bat my eyelashes, and say sweet nothings to him. As an insecure junior high girl, this was mortifying. Surely my face blushed such a vibrant hue of red it cast the appearance of a glowing heart suspended in the air between us.

Awww, sweet, innocent, young love.

It’s fascinating to watch my kiddos make the foray into the world of very early love, which by design doesn’t look much like love. Nonetheless, they have stepped on the path that someday will lead them to real love, marriage and family.

I have been giving much thought to my role as their mother, and how I (along with my husband) can teach them now what they will someday need to know, while keeping it sweet, young and innocent, an increasingly difficult challenge by today’s standards.

My evolving list of lessons I want to share with my young children includes:

  • Teaching them that love and respect are synonymous with one another. This is a lesson we cannot teach early enough. I am continually bothered by how cheaply so many girls and women try to sell themselves; one can not even remotely begin to persuade me that girls who expose so much of their bodies have a decent level of self-respect. I have asked my local grocery stores – to no avail as of yet – to cover up or move some of the magazines displayed right where any children can see them. It’s deplorable. A few years ago one of the members of my stake was featured in a back-to-school-shopping story in our local paper, and how her prospective items of clothing had to pass modesty tests before she would purchase them (arms raised, bending down and the like). What I found most fascinating is some of the comments berating this mother for being old-fashioned. Why would a parent want his or her child to not appear classy and modest? And then there are the dangers of children being exposed earlier and younger to the evils of pornography. The husband of a dear friend of mine has monthly counsels with their children, wherein he asks them pointedly in each meeting if they have ever been touched inappropriately or seen any pornographic images. This is the world in which we live.

    Herein is where respect comes to play -- teaching them to respect themselves and their bodies, and to respect others’ bodies, minds and personalities. It’s an ongoing and often difficult lesson, but one of extreme importance. And in order for them to understand respect, they need to witness it. My husband was surprised recently when he held the door open for a college-aged woman, and she remarked that no one had ever done that for her before. Ever. Let’s be examples of respect for the things that are important, and intolerance for the things that lower these standards.

  • Teaching them to have good manners. We had an “etiquette dinner” one evening, in which we set up a proper table and reviewed the proper use of each item, as well as proper dinner conversation, how to sit properly, how to seat a lady at a table, and similar lessons. This is a work in progress, with some meals seeming more like we gave lessons on how to eat in a barn instead of proper etiquette, but I dearly hope my kids will know how to act properly on a date and other social situations.

  • Resisting the urge to tease them about any crushes. Sometimes it’s so tempting because it’s so darn cute, but I walk the line between allowing them to take it too seriously, as they are children after all, and teasing them too much and thus causing them to be embarrassed about their feelings.

  • Trying to keep an open dialogue now with these sweet, innocent crushes so that when these feelings intensify over the years, we already have a high comfort level in discussing and sharing about such matters.

And so for Valentine’s Day, my son decided to declare his feelings for Meg in the language of a giant Hershey bar and a sweet note. I gently warned him of the potential fallout from this, but he persevered. And then a few other students got wind of the love offering and were on to him, causing much drama in his young love.

And then we had another lesson in love: that sometimes it hurts.

But for now, I’m happy if he continues to follow the Charlie Brown example of young love, rather than the plethora of other less-than-desirable examples out there for children to follow.

Especially if it keeps the proverbial red-headed girl out of reach. For now.


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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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