You’re Gross If You Think Little Kids Can ‘Flirt’

do-babies-flirtThis weekend my family and I went to a really popular outdoor shopping space here in Austin-it’s always crowded, but this weekend it seemed more crowded than particular, which I thought was strange because it was so godlessly hot outside.

In order to convince our daughter to come with us to this particular space, we usually bribe her with some kind of snack and a trip to the outdoor play area, which is conveniently located outside of the coffee shop. It’s pretty much a win-win, except for the fact that every outdoor area has the two things I like the least: other children and their parents.

This particular group of kids turned out to be pretty cool, actually. The oldest was a boy around the same age as my daughter who had a weird water bottle that misted everyone, and there was a handful of littler kids playing really nicely.

At some point my daughter decided that everyone needed to see the “twirlitude” of her skirt, and started spinning. Pretty much every other little girl followed suit, and even I, icicle-hearted woman that I am, had to admit that it was cute.

That’s when I accidentally made eye contact with one of the other moms. She asked me if my daughter was mine, I said yes, and she smiled at me.

“Watch out. That one’s a flirt!”

Now, I am very very bad at poker face. It’s why I stopped being invited to my husband’s company parties. Judging by the cramping of my upper lip muscles and the shocked look on the other lady’s face, I probably made some combination of my “Please eat shit and die” and “Dafuq are you smoking, lady?” looks. I don’t regret this. I only regret that I hadn’t vocalized these thoughts, because if you think little kids can flirt, you are gross and I need you to go away.

The fact is, I recognize a lot of myself in my daughter, and hearing this woman say this struck fear into my heart. One, because I know that if, at that age, someone had thought I was flirting with boys, I would have been mortified to the point of tears, and I suspect my daughter would feel pretty much the same way. Second, I was actually accused of flirting as a little kid, mainly for things that weren’t my fault, like growing boobs at age 9 or having the sheer audacity to have a mixed-gender group of friends. It gave me seriously mixed up ideas about my body and what kind of friends I was allowed to have.

Actually, the experience shocked me because I don’t see a lot of girls my daughter’s age being labelled “flirts”. Now, don’t get me wrong, girls have a lot of fun crap ahead of them when it comes to wearing leggings at school, picking out Halloween costumes,  and becoming responsible for their peer’s boners, but mainly, when an adult is talking about little kids flirting, they’re talking about boys.

Worse, they’re talking about infant boys.

I worked as a server for a very long time, and I can not tell you the amount of times that I’ve heard the phrase, “Aww look! He’s such a flirt!” only to find that they’re talking about a cute little baby boy smiling widely at a (female) waiter. Nothing made me want to vomit more than hearing things like that, coupled with gross onesies that say things like “I Sucked Your Wife’s Titties Last Night”. If you think I’m exaggerating, please take a gander at what passes for funny among what I assume are douchebag/douchebaguette couples when they procreate, to everyone’s combined chagrin:

I could launch into a wordy screed about why it’s wrong to do this. But I refuse to, because if I need to hold your hand to explain why an infant doesn’t need to be your billboard for unfunny frat jokes or why my daughter isn’t flirting when she innocently plays with her friends, you are probably a moron and it would be lost on you anyway.

Can’t we just call “toddler flirting” what it actually is? Kids being friendly? Do we have to couch it in the same language that sick individuals use when they attempt to excuse perving on little kids?

I don’t usually judge people based on one sentence interactions, but I will say this:

You’re gross if you think that little kids can flirt, and I bid you a horrible day.

(Image: Zurijeta/Shutterstock)

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  • Ursi

    You and me both!

    References to tiny kids that way make me massively uncomfortable. Everything from hearing that they are “flirting” (no, they don’t) to hearing comments about “oh you’ll have to fend the boys off” (sexist stale cliche). I know people don’t mean to come off that way but leaves a bad taste.

    Are we as adults so obsessed with the sexual that we have to project it onto every other human we see, even those for whom it has no meaning?

    • Tinyfaeri

      Yup. The 3 year old boy giving my 2 year old daughter a rock is just trying to be nice and make her feel welcome because she’s shy. They’re not dating for pete’s sake.

    • JJ

      Yes! Especially the “your gonna have to fend the boys off” line when referring to toddler girls and little preschool girls. No just no. Why don’t we wait till the girls are actually teenagers before we worry about dating and boys.

    • ktree

      I had a friend who would brag about how big her infant son’s testicles were. Pretty disgusting.

    • brebay

      Wow. Her parents really fucked her up.

    • brebay

      Ugh! Yeah, “dad better get his shotgun ready.” You’ll forgive me if I don’t give you a courtesy chuckle at the equally stupid notions that your daughter can’t stand up for herself and that you’re ready to blow my son’s head off for nervously walking your girl to Dairy Queen and buying her a blizzard…

    • Theresa Edwards

      THANK YOU. I have given my husband explicit instructions to not try any of these stupid jokes around our daughter.

    • SunnyD847

      I guess I just don’t think of flirting as necessarily sexual. I think of it as attention-seeking. I worked for many years in pre-schools/day cares/camps etc. and the kids generally went through a boyfriend/girlfriend phase around kindergarten. They paired up, broke up, promised to marry each other, etc. I think it was just a natural developmental phase where they were trying to make sense of their world. It all seemed to fade away in 1st and not come up again for years. Both my daughters had very intense relationships during that phase, but years later (they are in middle school now) neither has shown any interest in boys.

  • Bethany Ramos

    That onesie makes me want to die!!! And I just can’t get on board with flirting babies, NO.

    • brebay

      The sentiment and the grammar…

    • Theresa Edwards

      whyyyy did I not notice the grammar before?

    • SunnyD847

      That onesie is so icky! Also, I’ve seen one that says “My mom is a MILF.” If you replace MILF with the words it stands for, it is truly disturbing.

    • brebay

      Oh god, just did it. SO much worse.

  • Megan Zander

    I freaking love this so much. People call my 16month old boys flirts all the time. I think it’s weird bc you’re flattering yourself when you say a wee bebe is flirting with you. I wish you had actually gone on a wordy screed though, just for our enjoyment.

  • firsttimemom

    I hate these kind of remarks, too, but feel like I am taking crazy pills when I try to express these feelings. It’s as if I’m supposed to take them as a compliment!

    • JJ

      Like omg you should be so complimented that people think your four year old daughter is a flirt, tease and all the boys will be after her. Because that is the image parents want in their head of their little child, not. You should also feel so complimented that your little man is a “flirt” who smiles and does normal happy baby things because you know he is totally straight now. At least according to the people who say these kinds of “compliments”.

  • pixie

    And here I was thinking that when babies smiled there’s a good chance they just filled their diaper with a nasty surprise. I never knew they were actually flirting with me.
    Yeah, those types of comments make me super uncomfortable too. And I feel like babies who wear those onsies have fathers who wear equally dudebro shirts.

  • Jessica

    Thank you!!! I thought I was the only one who gets grossed out when the parents of a smiley baby boy would suggest he was “flirting” with me, an adult female who enjoys making silly faces at babies. Why do people try to sexualize their kids? Yick.

  • Upsilon

    Before I was pregnant this type of chatter has always come off as just a tired cliche to say when you don’t have anything real to add to the conversation, like talking about the weather. Now that I’m pregnant, I have to admit it seems weird along the lines of people who talk about their children being their valentines or their “dates.” The whole thing gets creepy in a hurry. And those onesies are insane.

  • SarahJane86

    According to Raising Girls by Gisela Preuschoff little girls do exhibit primitive flirting with their fathers. It’s like wrestling, it’s beneficial for their development, normal and they need to learn it for later (well, I guess they don’t need wrestling specifically, but developing defense and danger intuition), and like all baby animals, practice on their parents.

    It’s not what we consider flirting, that is, driven by the desire for sexual intimacy, it’s just a soft, intimate kind of play that’s designed to hold the father’s attention and sometimes there’s jealousy if that attention is divided.

    This probably boys, too but see the title of the book. There is Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph, and Raising Girls has been re-written by him, but I haven’t read them yet.

    It’s actually kind of annoying to me that you’ve written a deeply judgmental opinion article that actually has, you know, science, to go with it. And that onesie is sooooooooooooooooo not even close to what people say jokingly when they say a child is a flirt.

    PS I would never say my kids flirt, even if they are, because weirdos can’t help but equate it with sex.

    • Ursi

      Why would what you’re describing be called “flirting” then if there’s no desire for sexual intimacy? The term has overtly sexual connotations, there’s no need to even apply it to a child. The idea little girls seeking attention from fathers has anything to do with the flirting adults do is not only discomforting but rather alarmingly heterosexist.

    • SarahJane86

      Oh get over it. This reminds me sooooooooooo much of the the time I suggested calling a vagina and vagina in parenting forum got me called a pedophile.

      Just because you can’t separate what 20 year olds do in clubs from stuff the brain does is not my problem, and makes you the alarming one, actually.

    • Aimee Ogden

      There’s a big difference between using correct anatomical terms and ascribing motivations described in socially-loaded terms to small children.

    • Ursi

      What exactly is it that you are arguing for?

      Because I’m only pleading for the notion that early childhood is sacrosanct and should be removed from adult ideas of flirtation.

      I happen to know a little bit about that kind of development, I know there’s plenty of evidence that fetishes develop as young as toddlerhood and that sexual orientation locks in prior to puberty. I don’t think you’ll find a lot of debate from the scientific side on those issues. Children definitely have a range of feelings and urges that we identify as adult-appropriate.

      My point is that there is a line to be drawn with babies and toddlers and their behavior towards adults and each other. Labeling that behavior in a way that sexualizes it does not benefit anyone. Attention seeking is not flirtation simply because it is targeted towards the opposite sex. That is a notion that reinforces sexist stereotypes and does children no favors.

    • brebay

      One has nothing to do with the other. A vagina is a thing. Flirting is a subjective behavior normally used in the context of courting romantic/sexual attention. As you can see from these comments, flirting has more than one colloquial meaning. Vagina does not.

    • MamaLia138

      Yes! People think I’m weird because I told my son his penis is called *gasp* a penis. I’m not judging if you call it a pee-pee, but it is, in fact, a penis. Also, “flirt” is not a negative word unless you make it one. It’s being playful and cutesy. It’s not sexualizing. It’s a word.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Yup. One book makes “science.”

      Psychologically, it is a necessary part of development to find ways to engage others and make connections with other humans, but that’s not flirting as people typically use it. There is no romantic connection between toddlers or infants or even elementary school kids, and to insist otherwise does the babies/kids no favors. She’s not talking about learning how to get someone to smile back or engage in play or conversation, she’s talking about the insistence on saying that a child has a boyfriend, or will be a maneater someday.

    • blh

      Lol you seriously never had a crush on anyone in elementary school??

    • Tinyfaeri

      Define elementary school. 4th, 5th or 6th grade? Sure. 1st or 2nd grade? No, I did not. At least half of my friends were boys, so they were just friends to me like any girl.

    • Harriet Meadow

      I was the girl running around the playground in kindergarten and 1st grade trying to kiss all the boys because I “looooooooved” them. I also started having sexual fantasies at age 7. ::shrug::

    • Tinyfaeri

      Congratulations. Different people are different!

    • Harriet Meadow

      Exactly my point. =)

    • Harriet Meadow

      And just to clarify, I am not in any way suggesting that little kids (especially babies) really do “flirt.” I was simply responding to the question about crushes in elementary school.

    • blh

      Well I had I crushes in kindergarten and so did a lot of my friends. It’s not unusual. I also had friends that were boys.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Good for you!

    • SarahJane86

      Funny, I’m pretty sure I clarified that the author didn’t mean it in the common language sense.

      There’s actually a huge amount of information out there, and Raising Boys is actually one of the leading parenting books in the world, so there’s that.

    • Aimee Ogden

      So, just to clarify: you’re mad at the author of the article for using “flirting” in the common language sense when there’s “science” to describe the non-common-language sense according to this one book; but now when other commenters refer back to the loaded common-language term (you know, the one that people mean when they say a baby is flirting with strangers), you get annoyed that someone doesn’t want to use your definitions.


    • SarahJane86

      Kids flirt. Get over it. In the common term AND as a developmental function. I just typed in “flirting as natural behaviour” into google and got oodles of links. I picked this one because it clearly outlined healthy behaviour and was from a large government source, but there were studies as well.

      I think the article was overwhelming judgy and the creepy onesie was a way over the top way to illustrate an extremely floored point that is based almsot completely on ignorance on biology and development.

    • Aimee Ogden

      … Did you read that link? The only mention of flirting is as an abuse warning sign in children too young to be flirting.

      “These behaviours signal the need to monitor and provide extra support. …

      * persistently mimicking sexual flirting behaviour too advanced for age,
      with other children or adults”

      So, yeah. You showed us!

    • SarahJane86

      Sexual flirting? Do you know the difference between that and normal flirting? Which age group did you read, because 0 – 4 also said wanting to touch an adult’s genitals was healthy.

      Another one:

      Some of the normative sexual behaviors that pre-pubescent children will typically display are:

      Masturbation and interest in own genitals

      interest in the private body parts of others (“show me yours & I’ll
      show you mine”); an occasional peek at others’ private parts; playing

      An occasional “flashing” of one’s own genitals

      Imitating parental roles (acting like a daddy/mommy)

      Genital/reproductive discussions with same age peers & with parents; wanting to know what sex is

      *Kissing, flirting, innocent seduction behavior*

      Some use of “dirty” words and jokes

    • Aimee Ogden

      Wanting to touch a familiar adult’s genitals in the bath is NOT FLIRTING. Being curious about your body parts or those of others is NOT FLIRTING. Masturbation is NOT FLIRTING. Wanting to know what sex is or asking what it’s like to have a penis instead of a vagina is NOT FLIRTING. Sorry (not sorry) but anyone who tells a small child that they are “flirting” when they express curiosity about their bodies or the bodies of others sounds like a predator. And if you’ll recall, the original article is about babies and toddlers being called flirts and man-eaters for smiling at people, which is not under any of these links because it’s not sexualized behavior. It’s just smiling. If they were any younger, we’d say it’s just gas, but as soon as babies are old enough to have a bow clipped in their hair, some people need to start ascribing adult sexuality to them, and it’s pretty troubling.

      The NYU link you just shared also says ascribes flirting behavior as normal for *pre-pubescents*, not the toddlers this article was originally about. There’s a pretty big difference between saying a 12-year-old girl making eyes at the boys or girls at school is “flirting” and that a 2-year-old who smiles at strangers is “flirting”. 12-year-olds are exploring their own precocious sexuality; adults are projecting sexuality onto the 2-year-old (and almost certainly heterosexuality, at that).

    • brebay You know anyone can start a blog…do you know the difference between an advocacy site and an academic, peer-reviewed journal article?

    • SarahJane86

      Oh and that article also said “Expressing sexuality through sexual behaviour is natural, healthy and a
      basic aspect of being human.”

    • brebay

      Best-selling doesn’t mean most right. Case in point: Eckler.

    • brebay

      Hmmm. still only “guest votes”

    • brebay

      Weird. 14 “Guest votes” and not a single user name. You just logged out and logged back in so it registers as “guest” Everyone knows that. No way in hell 14 people up-voted this.

  • Julie

    Someone at the playground said wow your daughter is very beautiful I said thank you. They followed that up by saying she was going to be a maneater when she grows up…who says that about a 4 year old?

    • Guets

      I’ve actually heard that stuff more than the flirting stuff. I had an old coworker (who gave me heebie jeebies just in general) but he kept showing pictures of his two daughters who were 4 & 6 (and yes they were beautiful) and saying how they were going to be maneaters. All I could think about was that he was attracted to his own children. Barf.

    • Ms. Anne

      Ugh. I’ve heard that about my now 3-year-old son since he was a baby. “He’s gonna be a lady-killer when he grows up!” EW. Also, how do you know he’ll even want to date women? Ugh. Give them some time to just be kids.

    • Aimee Ogden

      Haha, I was just typing that next time someone says “what a man-eater!” to me about my daughter that I was going to say, “Or maybe a woman-eater!” and wink. Based on the kind of people in my life who say this to me, that should put them off this type of comment pretty quickly.

    • brebay

      Matt Walsh probably.

    • Lackadaisical

      That irritates me so much. People often think they are paying the kid a compliment with that one, rather than assigning a personality that they would actually view as negative to a child who is far to young to show any signs of personality as it is far too mature for that age. When people use “man eater” or “heart breaker” or “lady killer” about a grown up you assume a selfish and manipulative person, why should that be something that every child would aspire to if they grew up good looking?

  • Aimee Ogden

    THANK YOU. It drives me nuts when people describe normal infant/child behavior as “flirting”, especially since they completely ignore the same behavior if it’s performed in the presence of someone the same gender as the baby. Little boy grins at waitress -> OMG FLIRT! Little boy grins at waiter -> does not compute.

    I also think talking about small children being “flirty” feeds into the type of apologist narratives that crop up around molestation/sexual abuse cases – that 10-year-old was acting older than her age! She was flirting! She started it! Annnnnd now I want to vomit.

    • Guets

      Thats the part that gets me. Babies smile and love attention. Just because they smile at an opposite gendered person doesn’t mean they’re flirting with them. Flirting to me is a pre-dating thing generally. Babies don’t date. Just ugh.

  • Kelly

    Our 22 month old daughter is always trying to be the center of attention, like any toddler. My husband and I sometimes joke that she’s trying to sign up new members for her fan club…when I made that comment in front of my in-laws this weekend, they laughed and said that of course she wasn’t , she was obviously practicing her flirting. Ugh. Like you, I was totally speechless because why? It’s just such an inappropriate thing to say about a tiny child.

  • K.


    I guess I’m different–I’ve heard the word “flirting” referring to kids my whole life and it never really bothered me. Well, actually, it sort of caught my ear around 11ish when boys were coming on the scene, and I remember asking my dad, “What does auntie X mean about him flirting? Can he flirt?” My dad–who wears a bowtie and suspenders for real and talks about boot-camp as “a nice break from law school”–said with a kind of shrug, “Well, all children flirt.” He didn’t mean it in a cutesy way; he meant, essentially, all children learn to manipulate in order to earn favor from adults. I’ve never found a better word for the fact that children DO manipulate in various ways–not in a sexual way, but certainly in a emotional way–which is also part of growing up and learning how social relationships work.

    I can see why it makes people uncomfortable, definitely (and I am completely allergic to anyone who pretend that childhood is full of blithe innocence and children are little cherubs, so I’m REALLY not one for “cute”); I just thought that in my own life, it was a word that applied more broadly than that, so I’m putting it out there. My dad’s usage was definitely a far cry from a “I sucked on your wife’s titties” onesie. Yeesh–my dad would have probably curled up into a ball just like his socks with little animals embroidered on them had I shown up with the kid wearing something like that!

    • hbc

      I think the word you’re looking for is “manipulate”, right there in your definition. Flirting and manipulating aren’t the same thing. Or go with “wheedle” or any number of more accurate terms.

    • K.

      Yes, it’s more accurate, but it sounds weirder to my ear if people said, “Awww, look at her–she’s manipulating!”

      I’m not saying “flirting” is the best term either, but I always felt its applied meaning was broader in context of babies and children that didn’t always have a sexual connotation (I mean, I’ve heard it applied to say, boy children smiling at grown men–don’t think that the speaker meant to use the term in a sexual context then). I was just surprised that the article was so scandalized by it and by the references to pedophilia, that’s all.

    • hbc

      I agree it sounds strange, because usually the kid is just “friendly” or “outgoing” or something. But when my daughter gives someone a hug and says, “I love you, can I have some candy?”, she’s being manipulative, not flirty. Whether she does this to me, her dad, a boy, or a girl is irrelevant.

      I really dislike the term “flirting” for a couple of reasons, one of which is that a *lot* of people who use it claim it’s not sexual, but then go on to say something like, “You’ll have to watch out for the boys later” or “he’s going to be a lady-killer.” That *is* making a sexual connection with that behavior.

    • Lackadaisical

      I use the word “charm” rather than “flirt” as it is very similar but without the sexual association but seems a little less selfish and dominating than “manipulate”. I would agree that kids do learn to charm grown ups and other kids as a means to getting their way and gaining approval as they learn social interactions.

  • ktree

    OMG you hit the nail on the head. I, too, was wearing bras in the 3rd grade, and got all sorts of unwanted attention. It took until my late 20s until I could wear form-fitting clothing, I felt ashamed and embarrassed and grossed out at the thought of anyone seeing my body. Please people, don’t sexualize children. (On a similar note, don’t encourage other children to do it or joke that the child really likes the attention.)

  • blh

    Little kids totally flirt. They aren’t thinking oh hey that guys hot, I wanna do him but they’re very capable and of thinking someone is cute and tuning to get their attention
    I don’t remwbwr too much of this, but my mom tells me about this time my family was out to eat and me and my cousin thought the waiter was cute and kept acting dumb trying to get his attention and giggling when he’d look at us.

    • brebay

      It’s engaging human contact, and acceptance through eye contact. It’s what infants do. It’s not flirting.

    • blh

      I didn’t say infants I said children.

    • brebay

      I think I was reading the comment above this and just posted too far down.

  • Harriet Meadow

    I don’t know, my son smiles and beckons women and other babies over, and then grabs them and plants a huge kiss on their cheeks. So we call that particular smile (because we can tell what’s about to happen) “flirting.” I think it’s cute, in a totally light-hearted non-sexual way. I guess I never thought that “flirt” had necessarily sexual connotations. But you’re absolutely right, and I’m going to stop using this term now.

    • Guest

      He doesn’t ever kiss men? Just women and baby boys/girls?

  • Harriet Meadow

    That onesie is awful. This isn’t quite as bad, but my sister-in-law and her husband got their infant son a pacifier that said “PIMP” on it. I’m so glad we were not living in the same town at the time, because that pacifier would have been violently destroyed by me.

  • Guets

    I was just looking at a pic someone posted of their kid wearing one of the “boob man” onesies. If anyone buys me that crap I will tell them to their face that it will be used as a clean up rag.

    • waffre

      Or, “please take this back and call me when you acquire some taste.”

    • brebay

      “Oh, gee, thanks, this would have been perfect if I had given birth to a pig.”

  • RayneofCastamere

    Ugh. People just need to let kids be kids and to stop calling any friendly interaction or showing off of something they think is neat “flirting.” Kid probably doesn’t even know what flirting is, they’re just trying to be nice and/or have fun.

  • JJ

    The funniest argument I ever heard from someone was that there son clearly wasn’t gay and never would be (so they wouldn’t have to deal with the gayness) because he was a little flirt so they wouldn’t have to worry about it. Hahaha NO. Because kids don’t mimic what they see adults do which is joke and flirt around with each other. It not like kids don’t tend have open, friendly personalities and like to joke around with others of either sex, nope totally, your son playing with girls and “flirting”(what the parents think of as flirting anyway) means there 100 percent straight guaranteed.

    • ktree

      Oh, ICK. So many icks.

  • Beth

    I have two daughters, six and eight. They’re gorgeous (warning: I’m ever-so-slightly biased). People say things like “watch out, Daddy, get out your baseball bat, the boys are gonna come knocking any day now” or “they already know how to flirt”. It’s true that they are charming when they want something, and it’s deliberate. However, they do that to people of both genders, depending on what they want and who they want it from. Yes, the idea of little kids flirting is ridiculous. It’s basically the innate knowledge that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

    • brebay

      As a mother of boys, I really hate those comments. You’re ready to bash my son’s skull in if he thinks your daughter is pretty and asks her out? Or is it that they assume men/boys will rape girls IF they’re pretty…because that’s what rape is about…the beauty of the victim…barf. Unacceptable wither way.

    • Beth

      You know, I never thought of THAT side of things …. but you’re absolutely right, suggesting violence against boy because he likes a girl is pretty sick. It’s a wierd world out there.

  • gretta

    I AGREE!!! I have all boys and whenever a little girl tries to be friends someone will say she is flirting!!! Can’t they just want to be friends with my son???? It embarrasses the girl and my son and sometimes ruins two kids just trying to play!!

    • brebay

      Definitely. I think this is one of the reasons girls and boys stop being friends at a certain age, because everybody makes it about boyfriend/girlfriend. When actually, if we want them to have healthy relationships when they’re older, letting them be friends without labeling it would be the best thing to do!

  • PotMeetKettle

    This is…absurd. I’d venture that no healthy person describes a child as “flirting” and means “wants to bang”. Only the hypersexualized even hear that word and assume it has anything to do with sex at all, when it’s generally used to display and demand attention, maybe attraction, but in a casual and friendly way, not in a hot and bothered one. Certainly not in this context. You’ve heard the phrase “flirting with disaster”? Does not mean, “wants to bang disaster”. Calm the eff down and put some energy into speaking for children who are actually being exploited.

    • Aimee Ogden

      If you don’t think the way we talk about children shapes the way we view victims, I think you’re way off the mark. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of the child victim of an adult offender, “She was probably flirting”, “she acted more adult than her age”, “she dressed slutty”, etc. The language we use to describe children is linked to the way we think about and treat them, and starting to call little girls “flirts” for smiling at strangers makes it that much easier for someone to call them “flirts” when they’re taken advantage of, without it sounding as gross and horrifying as it ought to.

    • Ashley Austrew

      “Flirting with disaster” means you’re inviting disaster. By that same token, a child said to be “flirting” with an adult could be painted as inviting the attention of that adult in whatever shape or form that attention comes in. Language matters, and whether we take responsibility for it or not, the words we use perpetuate a culture of objectification and victim blaming.

    • hbc

      “I’m banging a drum” and “I’m banging a guy.” Words can have different meanings in different contexts.

      Of course, you can argue from there that “the toddler is flirting” means something different than “the adult is flirting”, but the word becomes pretty much useless if you try to divide it up that way.

    • SoWhat

      Yeah…talk about making too much of nothing. I’m pretty sure I’ve described my daughter and son both as flirting with both sexes. I never thought of it in a sexual sense, just that they were being extra friendly with a person. I see the authors point, but I never saw it, or meant it that way myself as I’m sure most people don’t.

  • Butt Trophy Recipient

    As someone unfamiliar with the concept of flirting, I think it’s odd to attribute it to young young children.

  • Sarahstired

    Possibly the best thing I have ever read. Spot on. It is so weird how people put adult concepts on these little kids. They will have pleanty of time to be adults, let them be kids and play.

  • brebay

    I hate it too. These are the same people who blame Beyonce for “sexualizing” little girls. My son’s bestie in preschool was a little girl, ERR’BODY called them boyfriend and girlfriend. I hate it when a baby smiles and morons call it flirting. Um…it’s gas. If you consider passing gas flirting, you might be a redneck. Childhood is short, quit jumping the gun!

  • Katherine Handcock

    I guess I have two different versions of flirting…to me, kids “flirt” in a non-sexual, look-at-me-I’m-awesome kind of way (like my son, who gets his babysitter’s boots for her when it’s time for her to leave) which is different from adult flirting. But I do HATE it when people take a child’s outgoing nature and turn it into some sort of “this kid will be a sexual monster” kind of thing. Blergh.

    On the other hand, my husband and I DO joke that we’re pretty sure what my son’s sexual orientation is. We could be surprised, of course, but he thinks girls (especially high school girls and young women in college) are just amazing, wondrous creatures. :-)

  • Rachel Sea

    I don’t associate flirting with sexuality. I think people of ages can flirt in perfect innocence.

  • G.E. Phillips

    I don’t reaaaaaally mind the “flirting” comments when it comes to babies, I don’t necessarily believe that the word HAS to have a totally sexual implication. However, those onesies are just gross. Big, fat NOPE to that shit. Also, in the same vein, I have several friends with infant sons who posted that ridiculous meme on Facebook about how they’re going to make their son’s future girlfriends “go way” if they don’t like them, or if they don’t act “like a lady.” Honey, your son is 8 months old. Maybe you should wait until he’s walking and talking before you teach him to become a tiny douchebag dudebro, you know?

    Douchebaguettes beget douchebags beginners. Now, say that 3 times fast.

  • SA

    I guess I have always seen little kid flirting as different from adult flirting and never really thought about it like this. And my kid has a little boy that is definitely VERY partial to her (it is hilarious), we’ve been careful to not joke about boyfriend/girlfriend stuff – but I do think there can be some level of innocent attraction between small kids.

    But I do hate labeling everything and people asking young kids about boyfriends/girlfriends….I think it puts a different perception in a kid’s mind that they might have not come to on their own, so I really do see where we should not be labeling this behavior as flirting. I think we need to let kids be kids for as long as they can.

    And that onesie is MESSED UP.

    • Guest

      There’s totally innocent attraction between certain kids. When they’re the same sex we call them “best friends.” Why do we look at it differently if they’re opposite sexes?

    • SA

      Well, in the case I am referring to, this particular little boy gushes at how pretty my daughter is and how much he loves her, all unprompted. It isn’t because of him being of the opposite sex. My kid does have a boy (different one) as her BFF, I couldn’t imagine that boy has ever pondered her beauty.

  • Ashley Austrew

    Uugghhh, yes! People ALWAYS say things like this about my daughter! She is very outgoing, and I guess she “flirts” with people, but I think couching it in those terms is weird. I say she’s being friendly or making friends or being charming. I also hate it when people tell me things like; “She’s so pretty. You are in SO. MUCH. TROUBLE. when she gets older,” or, “You’re going to have to beat the boys off with a stick.” Umm…gross. Yes, she is beautiful. Yes, you can say that. It’s fine. But all these ways of saying it that imply she’s an object to be gawked at by boys/men and has no control over it? Blegh. She’s 2. Stop it.

  • Kelly

    I don’t understand why so many of you seem to think all flirting is sexual. I’m kind of a flirty type of person, I certainly do not want to have sex with everyone I interact with. Yuck.

  • hbc

    For those who think flirting is a neutral term, given how many other people see it differently, can you please just pick a different word? Say that a kid is being an extrovert, wheedling, kissing up, being charming, attention-seeking–there are so many options that have no sexual connotation to anyone.

    And if it’s so neutral, why haven’t I ever heard anyone say something like, “Hey, good to see you, I was just flirting with your husband the other day”?

    • brebay

      Exactly. You’re going to smile and engage in a job interview too, also not “flirting.”

  • Tazlima

    The first few times I heard it, I thought “flirting” was a strange word to describe outgoing and adorable behavior from toddlers, but I just decided it was a second definition, just as there’s a big difference in the definition of “love” when applied to your spouse, your grandparents, or your favorite food.

    The thing that kind of bugs me is when people use food terminology when talking about babies (i.e. “Aww, couldn’t you just eat him up?”). It wasn’t used in my family and I still find it a little weird, but obviously I don’t think anyone actually wants to go all “Modest Proposal” on their babies.

    It’s OK for words to have more than one meaning.

  • Jayamama

    I wholeheartedly agree. One question, though.

    Both of my daughters, when they were (are) babies, would smile sweetly at someone, stick their tongue out slightly, turn their head sideways and flick an eyebrow. It’s a variation of an expression that they get from my husband’s side of the family, part of the reason I fell in love with him. I always joke to the person holding the baby that she’s “flirting with you.” However, I use it equally with both genders, usually to family members, and it’s intended as nothing sexual. It’s a different way of commenting on their charms. Does this still qualify? Do I need to find another way of saying it?

  • C.J.

    When my younger brother was a toddler my mom used to put him in a playpen on the front porch while she was working in the yard. He was really fair skinned so she wanted to keep him in the shade and he would have been too hard to keep track of since we lived on a street that was fairly busy. We lived near a high school and when the teenage girls walked by after school my brother would bat his eyelashes (literally) and smile at them. The would always stop to talk to him, he was very cute and social. I remember him being called a flirt. I don’t remember anyone saying anything about it being something sexual. Everyone just thought he was a little ham. Toddler “flirting” isn’t the same as adult flirting. My brother is almost 30 and he doesn’t go around flirting with everyone anymore but I can still see that same confidence in him and he is very much a people person. I think kids who “flirt” just have more social personalities. I also don’t think all flirting is sexual and kid “flirting” is never sexual.

  • SarahJesness

    I hated any kind of comments about romance when I was a kid. I had zero interest in guys until I was like, 13 or 14, and comments like these made me all nervous. I wasn’t into romance or guys yet and I didn’t want people to push me toward that, ya know?

  • MamaLia138

    Is it weird that I say my son flirts all the time? I never thought of it as being perverted, just cute! He loves this one little girl at school and he flirts with her, he flirts with his teacher, he flirts with little girls at stores, waitresses, etc. He’s super outgoing but he starts “acting” shy and giggling and, yes, batts his eyes. I think it’s adorable. If the word flirt bothers you, sorry.

  • C

    I absolutely hate it when people say baby boys flirt. I think it’s gross and I don’t want to think of them being attracted to anyone.