Most experts and parents consulted for this article say group “dates” to the mall, movies or even a friend’s house are fine as long as they’re supervised, even if it means just being in the same shopping center.
Ed Parrish, a banker and father of four from Graham, has noticed that his 13-year-old son has started asking his older sister if her friend’s younger sister can join her on visits to the Parrish home. Sometimes, his son will go to the movies with guy friends and “meet up” with a group of girls from school, Parrish says.
What to watch for: It’s time to have the “values and expectations” talk if you haven’t already.
This can mean discussing your family’s views on sex before marriage, as well as frank talk about abstinence, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.
Megan*, a senior at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, says only about 20 percent of these relationships result in an official couple.
Jennifer*, a junior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, notes that while it’s not cool to “talk” to more than one person at a time, some people go from one talking “relationship” to another without actually dating anyone, which tends to explain the relatively low numbers of actual couples.This is a prime opportunity to find out what they find appropriate and desirable in a romantic partner, says Crystal Reardon, director of counseling for Wake County Public School System. You have to respect your children’s feelings but also want to help keep them safe.” What to watch for: Girls usually don’t want to bring someone they’re just talking to home to their parents, say both Megan and Jennifer, so be prepared for some flak if you insist.“You never want the guy to think you’re going, ‘Oh, we’re dating, so I want you to meet them,’” Megan says.Broken hearts after a breakup are real, too, and just as with adults, there’s no timetable for recovery.What to watch for: If your teen experiences signs of depression weeks after a breakup, appears to be arguing or behaving differently with their boyfriend/girlfriend, withdraws from other friends or shows signs of physical abuse such as bruises or scratches, check with your doctor, school counselor or a community psychologist right away, advise both Gurwitch and Reardon.He feels comfortable with these early forays because “we’ve given him the talk about the need to respect young ladies and what we expect of him.” What to watch for: Smartphones and social media can lay traps for preteens and young teens.Parents should establish ground rules for texting members of the opposite sex and explain the importance of avoiding any form of “sexting.” Parents should also monitor their child’s text conversations and follow/friend them on any social media sites where they have accounts.For high schoolers, it can mean that, too, but usually refers to making out at parties or get-togethers.Kids hook up with people they’ve just met, casual acquaintances and even friends. Jennifer, when asked if hooking up with a guy meant a girl had a crush on him, says dismissively, “Nope.” And Megan concurs: “It would seem very strange to me that a girl would think there’s something there” after a hookup.Even 14- and 15-year-olds can fall in love, Reardon says.“To a child or teenager who is experiencing this, it is very real and very important,” she says.