Once terrified that puppy love would destroy children’s prospects, Chinese parents today see benefits — and more tweens and teens are falling in love. Wang Jie reports.
Puppy love used to be virtually taboo in China and parents were overwhelmingly opposed, fearing early love (zao lian ÔçÁµ) would distract children from all-important studies and change their life path and prospects for the worse.
Today more and more children in high school, and even middle school, are falling in love, as evidenced by numerous “Generation Z Puppy Love” chat groups, swirling debate on the Internet and news reports.
In July, 549 girls and young women called Shanghai’s first hotline (6587-6866) for advice on unintended pregnancies. Of the callers, 14.1 percent were students from middle school and 19.4 percent from high school and vocational school. Middle school students are between 12 and 15, while high school and vocational school students range from 16 to 18.
More than 50 abortions were performed at the No. 411 Hospital of People’s Liberation Army, 30 percent of them undergone by middle, high and vocational school students on summer holiday.
Hotline doctors emphasized the need for meaningful sex education, which is limited or nonexistent in China.
In the past, if a teacher spotted any signs of early love, the parents would be notified, asked to go to the school and discuss the problem. Teachers would separate the two during school hours and parents would ensure there would be no contact after class.
In 2009 a furor erupted when Heilongjiang Province revised a regulation in “The Ordinance on Juvenile Protection of Heilongjiang Province” stating: “Parents and other guardians should reprimand and educate children who are minors when they are involved in misconduct and unlawful acts including puppy love, illegal cohabitation, drug use and prostitution and should prohibit and rectify such misconduct and unlawful acts.”
But today, as young love is everywhere in TV, film and other media, early puppy love is increasing. Children are also maturing earlier sexually, as a result of a healthier diet and parents are more tolerant.
In a hotline survey of 309 parents, 54 percent said they did not oppose relationships in high school, saying it could be a good thing.
“I myself have a very bad puppy love memory from high school,” says Christine Liu, a 40-year-old accountant with a 14-year-old daughter. “My mother was so worried that she kept asking me who the boy calling me was. Actually, there was nothing between us and we were just friends. But my mother was so freaked out that she even checked my diary and listened to my phone calls.”
She would never treat her own daughter the same way, Liu says. “Early love is part of the growing process. I can understand since I was once young.”
Her sentiments are shared by Helen Zhu, who has a 15-year-old son.
“Frankly, I hope my son does find a girl he likes in class. He’s too sloppy and never cares about his appearance, sometimes wearing the same pair of trousers for a week,” says Zhu. “I tell him a man’s appearance is important and he should at least clean up, but he pays no attention.
“If he had a crush on a girl, I’ll bet he would immediately change. I would love to see that,” she adds.
While parents are still concerned that students must keep up their grades and not get too distracted, many are looking at the positive and healthy side of puppy love.
The amount of high school homework is overwhelming, especially in top high schools, says Song Bing, mother of a high school boy. “All teens wear the same expression, they are distant and indifferent. Many are burdened with piles of homework, the pressures from teachers and the expectations of parents. They need emotional release. I want my child to have sweet memories of his ‘innocent days,’ rather than memories of drills in English, Chinese and math.”
Don’t need to worry
Li Tao, a 16-year-old high school student, says he has a crush on one of his classmates. “But I never say anything. Her English is terrific, so I am trying to improve my English so she notices me.”
But An Tianlin, another 16-year-old high school student, says she is not interested in any boy at her class.
“They appear quite stupid and don’t know what the girls are really thinking,” she says. “But I won’t mind if there is a boy, older than me, who can help me in life and with study. Frankly, I have a good relation with my brother’s best friend. Yet I am not certain whether this could be called love.”
According to psychologist Feng Yalan at East China Normal University, parents shouldn’t worry too much about early love.
“Puppy love results from the physiological growth of teens and most are unrequited love. Teens usually prefer to keep their little secret, so it’s better if parents don’t focus too much on this. Let them keep their secrets.”
Compared with their own parents, many parents today are not afraid to face the issue of early love.
“I am neither for or against it, and even if I were opposed, it would be pointless,” says Xue Peiran who has a 16-year-old son. “Sometimes I think it is better to let him know girls are thinking at an early age, especially for a future science major. Otherwise, they don’t know what to talk about in front of girls.”
Many Chinese boys, teens and young men are socially inept, sheltered and pampered by their parents, burdened by homework, and focused on studies and extracurricular classes that take up all their time. They don’t socialize very much, especially with girls.
Psychologist Feng adds that one reason for children maturing earlier is because of better nutrition. She cites a report suggesting that 80 percent of Japanese teenager have had sexual contact, while the percentage in China is around 20. She believes the percentage in China will rise, especially in vocational schools where rules are less strict.
Predictably, parents of girls are more concerned than those of boys about early love — because of the risk of unintended pregnancy.
“Pregnancy out of wedlock does such damage to a girl and probably influences her later life,” says Wang Yuyuan who has a 15-year-old daughter in middle school. “This is every mother’s nightmare. Sometimes I remind my daughter to be careful in an indirect way, citing the situation of pregnant and unwed girls.”
Wu Ying, who also has a 15-year-old daughter, is more relaxed. “Pregnancy outside marriage mainly happens among girls who stop their studies and it’s rare in middle and high schools in urban areas. City teenage girls are more cautious. I believe family education is very important.”
Many teachers are also becoming more accepting of puppy love involving their students.
“If the two students can maintain their scores, then I would turn a blind eye,” says math teacher Zhou Wei in her 40s. She says teachers are quite attuned and probably the first to notice anything unusual between a girl and a boy, much earlier than their parents.
“But unless the two get poor exam stories, I won’t tell their parents. Who hasn’t been young once?” she says.