I was at the beach the other day, pushing my toes into the sand and reading a book, when a family of four arrived and parked right next to me.

Now, I’m not anti-social. So I didn’t mind that from all the empty bits of beach to choose from, they chose the bit next to me. I quite like people, and I don’t mind the sound of children playing. The father went to play cricket with his son and the mother and her daughter settled down with a book and a sand bucket and spade respectively. The little girl looked to be about three to four years old.

I went back to my book while the family noises played in the background. ‘Sunscreen – blah, blah – something to drink – blah, blah – play with your brother – blah, blah – I’m hungry – blah, blah – no, there’s no ice cream – blah, blah’. I noticed that a new arrival had joined the family and was being greeted with gusto. I looked up to find a wiry-looking woman with violently hennaed orange hair. She had a loud voice; you know the kind I mean. It was the kind that was designed to grate on the nerves of other people.

She cooed to the older boy, who looked disgusted and turned away, and then turned on the three year old. ‘OH MY’, she exclaimed. ‘What a BIG girl!’

The big girl proclaimed that she was in lower kindergarten, and was greeted with more cooing.

I sighed and tried to concentrate on my book. The woman talked to the mother a bit and then turned to the little girl again. ‘So tell me’, she said in syrupy tones, ‘who is your boyfriend in school?’ She gave the little girl a rather disturbing knowing look, and when she saw me staring across, she winked. The little girl shrugged and went back to her bucket and spade, while the mother chuckled and changed the subject. After a while they decided to go join the other people in their party and started walking across the beach, the little girl picking up shells as they went.

I was left in solitude, but instead of returning to my book I found myself quivering with anger.

This is not the first time I’ve heard an adult asking a child if they have a significant other and I’m starting to be concerned that it won’t be the last. I am just flabbergasted that this question is even being asked in the first place. Children don’t understand the concept of a boyfriend or a girlfriend; at any rate, they aren’t supposed to if they’re being raised right. Oh, sure, you can throw all the stuff you want in my face about your unbelievably precocious little girl (why is it always little girls who are precocious, by the way?) but I put it to you that children aren’t born precocious; they’re MADE that way. I hold parents, and friends at school, and clearly the friends of parents – responsible. I didn’t hear the mother say that it was an inappropriate question; not one protest was made on the behalf of her child. If I had been in her place I should have said ‘Don’t ask my daughter that; it’s not appropriate’.

Something else that really bothers me (while we’re here I may as well air that grievance as well) is the fact that parents (mothers, usually) try to set their children up with the children of their friends. It doesn’t matter if said children are babies, toddlers, or whatever; they will often say (or tweet, or leave comments on photos or status updates): I can’t wait until my son A gets older and dates your daughter B! Then the mothers will giggle together, and plot and plan. I once saw a MARRIAGE PROPOSAL for a little girl by the mother of a little boy.

Excuse me for a second while I boggle anew.

What makes you think that your children will be interested in the person that you pick? What makes you think that your child isn’t gay? What makes you think that your child, with all the experiences that the world will surely throw at him or her, will even like this little girl or boy you thought appropriate? What gives you the right to make your child an adult long before she or he is? Dating – and boyfriends and girlfriends – and marriage – those are all very adult things.

For heaven’s sake, let your children be children; let them take their time growing up. Let them make their own choices; let them find the people they’re supposed to date, and kiss, and lose, and meet, and spend the rest of their lives with. Stop thrusting adulthood on your children; their childhoods are so fleeting, and there’s plenty of time for all the living they will do later – when they’re supposed to.