How many parents talk to their kids about how to ask someone to dance? What about a discussion about how to reply when they do get asked? Parents are not given an instruction manual when a baby is born, and that sucks sometimes. Once a kid reaches puberty, I think this topic needs discussion.

Spring is here where we live, and the middle school spring dances happened. I helped to chaperone the 7th-grade dance, and I felt like an anthropologist watching a new band of kids. The part I want to address is the rite of passage that is probably one of the hardest cultural rituals for this age: boys asking girls to dance. This is so awkward and hard! I mean, as much as I can gather socialized as a woman in this culture and who prides herself on being aware of these sorts of things, it sure seems to be.

My daughter Cindy is the tallest girl in her grade, even in comparison with the girls wearing heels. Sometimes she feels out of place being so tall and is rather comfortable not being in the popular group. During the dance, a popular boy asked Cindy to dance. She said “no, thank you” and right away came over to tell me, so we got to process it in real time.

At first, I asked her how she felt; she said she felt “used” and that the scene felt like a dare from some of the other boys. I validated that, saying I’d probably feel the same way she did. Then I asked her what she thought the boy might be experiencing asking her to dance. Pressure? Nerves? As a popular kid, maybe he assumed she would say yes? Teaching empathy or consideration for the feelings of others without being able to ask them directly can be tricky, but I like to assume good intention. I also praised her for being clear with her “no” and respectful at the same time.

My gut has been working overtime lately regarding the teen dating/relationship interactions of both of my daughters. This is what came up for this situation:

The five steps I gave my daughter for the future:

  1. Treat situations like this with respect.
  2. Understand that gathering up the courage to ask someone to dance (or date) can be a painful thing, especially if you are shy and afraid of rejection.
  3. Then, proceed with something like this:

“Thank you for asking. That was brave to ask. I bet it sucks to be the one that has to ask, so you have my respect for that. …”

4a.     Then, she gets to exercise her choice and negotiate what SHE wants. If she is a “yes” to the person but a “no” to the activity, she can say so,

“This isn’t my favorite song, so maybe if X comes on I’ll take you up on it.”

4b.     Or, if she’s just a “no” to the person, she can say,

“…But no thank you.”

5.   And let that be the end of it.


Now is NOT the time to go running back to your “squad” and be all like, “ewwwww,” or “omg gross,”! or mock pointing finger down your throat to gag, or laughing behind his back. Sometimes the reaction is thoughtless just for show. If someone did that to me, it would seriously piss me off, and the resentment would eat at me for a while.

Do the 5 steps sound impossible? I don’t think so. Neither do my daughters. Kids can be direct. Of course, it will be awkward, but so is asking someone to dance. If they don’t want to say “yes,” then saying “no” or negotiating something they do want is a much better way to go. I believe this interaction leaves both the asker and the askee with their dignity.

What are the alternatives?

You know the scene. Girls stand around and complain that the boys won’t ask. Boys hang together and don’t ask because they are tired of the rejection. Back in January, some teachers at a middle school in Central California suggested the girls should be obliged to say “yes” to a single dance if the boys asked politely. It was never official policy (thank God).

I understand the intent of getting both sides together to dance, but the idea of instructing girls to say yes when they want to say no is dangerously misguided. Why? Because directions like these eliminate the girls’ sense of power and understanding that she can say no and instead make it her job to protect the boys’ presumably fragile ego. Project forward about 5 to 10 years and think how that instruction might set young men AND women up for trouble in the future. See it yet?

Note: None of our egos are that fragile, they just need to be handled with compassion.

Lasting pain.

When I talked with some men in my extended family about Cindy’s dance and my possible solution, they confirmed that yeah, rejection is hard and getting rejected would probably hurt less if they were turned down in the way outlined above. Adults who now have their own kids remember the pain of rejection in school like it was yesterday. This experience is not limited to men, though; Rejection sucks for anyone, and that pain often sticks with us.

But there’s something about this situation at this young, middle school age that I want to address, and I’m aware that this might ruffle some feathers, but please hear me out: I begin to understand how some men start out as hurt young boys and lash out when they get older *coughTROLLScough*. As a woman who experienced the middle school years in America, I can confirm that some teen girls can behave like the biggest dicks (to both boys and other girls). I will offer this: to anyone I may have inadvertently hurt if they asked me out in school, I’m sorry.

If you experienced something as sucky as disrespect heaped onto rejection, I assume you didn’t deserve it. That said, if you were acting like an entitled pig then you probably totally deserved it.

**Make no mistake, some real-life entitled adult pigs exist out there. They do not care if you address them with respect or clarity and who lash out with violence when they are rejected. I do not know who hurt them or what situation created that monster. Those troubled adults need help, though.

Respect has to come from BOTH sides.

I gave my daughters permission to ask out whomever they want, that they don’t have to wait for a boy to ask them out. Boys do not need to shoulder this pressure alone. Letting girls have some say will not lead to the fall of society – what I do see as deeply problematic is the idea that women should be silent or that girls need to tend to the emotional needs of boys. If you catch your son being disrespectful to women or others in general, take a close look at the influences in his life. Are there role models who are modeling this crappy behavior? If so, get help now.

Conversely, women should not emasculate or criticize men and boys when they show vulnerability. Treating others with disrespect just breeds contempt and anger and encourages them to be shitty back. Sadly, to anyone within range. If you catch your daughter doing this to anyone, same instruction as above – check out the influencers. For example, if you see bad examples in the media they consume, seek out help to unlearn/reprogram this behavior.

Please teach your sons and daughters to be respectful and kind to others. Teach your kids to be compassionate with others when they do something challenging. This is our job as the elders of the tribe. Instructing kids to be compassionate and/or to negotiate something they do want might make all the difference to kids in the future.



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About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on

  1. I sooo appreciate your advice. I think of myself as a big city progressive mom thats come home to small town usa to raise my family and your attitudes and approaches juat really reaonate with me. My kids are in a public school that I am appalled to discover will not even get basic sexual education until 7th grade. 7th grade. Omg. And we wonder why we have teen pregnancy? If they cant even get tbe facts until 7th grade. And this concept of how to respectfully behave at a dance…wow…thats really out there. Im proud to say not in my house. My 12 yr old son is comfortable talking to me, if embarrassed at times and as a matter of fact we just handled a how do I ask a girl to dinner question tonight. Thanks for what you do! You are a great resource!

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