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Sometimes I wish someone actually sat me down as a kid and talked to me about dating and relationships. I don’t ever recall talking to either parent about these subjects, but I did hear “You better not come home knocked up.” So yeah, I knew not to get pregnant, but I didn’t actually know how one “got pregnant,” if that makes any sense. Health classes were a joke in school. My girlfriends didn’t know anything, either. And the little boys in middle school were perverts and spent their free time trying to touch on girls’ butts. The last boy who attempted to cop a feel in the 8th grade ended up with a black eye.
Instead, I learned everything I knew at the time from Judy Blume, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. Yeah, not quite the holy grail of learning, but they were all I had. Blume taught me about menstruation and innocent crushes. Collins and Steele taught me about lust, love and the dangers that could arise from both. Life taught me the rest. Now that I’m the parent of a teenager, I give him the advice I wish I had received when I was his age.
Last week my 13-year-old son came into my room, laid next to me on my bed and placed his head on my shoulder. This is usually what he does when he wants something, so I was preparing myself for either of these questions:
- Can I have another dog?
- Can I get another gecko?
- There’s this new video game coming out. Can you buy it?
I was preparing myself to say no to whatever request he was about to ask. To my surprise he asked for something else.
Just last year girls were gross, rude and mean. Now he wants advice about dating them? To say I wasn’t prepared for that question was an understatement. I needed a few minutes to contemplate my answer, but with him, an answer needs to be supplied immediately. So I thought about it for all of five seconds. I thought about what I wanted to hear when I was his age, then I thought about what I learned and what I’m still learning along the way.
His question was about a friend he has a crush on. He didn’t know whether he should ask her “out” or just remain friends. I’m not really sure what he meant by “out,” because there’s not so much a 13-year-old can do besides the movies and the mall, but I didn’t bring up that issue. I asked him if there were any signs that she may be interested in more than a friendship, because sometimes people can misinterpret signals. I didn’t want him to answer the question, but to just think about it and pay attention to their interactions at school. If he felt that there was something more there, then maybe he should simply ask her to the movies and see what she says. But if she turns him down, I told him not to be disappointed because they could still be friends without the whole dating aspect.
If kids are taught early that men and women can be platonic friends, there won’t be 50,000 blog posts 10 years from now with people asking “Can Men & Women Really Just Be Friends?” Because we all know that horse has been beaten to death.
Last Friday I dropped my son off at his school’s 8th grade lock in, and he introduced me to his friend and her dad. I spoke to her father briefly, and we shared a few laughs about raising teenagers. As the two kids ran into school, they talked basketball and what movie they were seeing this weekend, I exchanged glances with her father, and he summed it up appropriately: “Those two are like peas in a pod. I hope they stay friends for a long time.”