According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids are starting to date earlier than ever before, with the average age 12-and-a-half for girls and 13-and-a-half for boys. While dating age depends on a number of factors, and varies from child to child, many parents agree that dating should begin slow and supervised. Safety is a major concern, and dates should be appropriate for the child’s age. Discuss with your children what it means to “go out” with someone, and ask yourself whether your son or daughter is mature enough to deal with the emotional aspects of a relationship.
What Dating Means
It’s important to communicate with your child to determine what he or she considers an average date before saying “no” to dating. For some children, dating could mean hanging out at the mall or talking nightly on the phone. Crushes can begin as early as elementary school, but most kids don’t think about “going out” until middle school. According to the NYU Child Study Center, pre-teens (9 to 12 years old) may say they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but do not spend time with their crushes outside of school or group gatherings. As children get older, they may begin pairing up, and nearly 75 percent of teens aged 15 to 19 reported having dated or been in a relationship.
Group gatherings in which boys and girls spend time together can help adolescents ease their way into dating, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The NYU Child Study Center found that experts consider supervised group activities, such as sports events, school dances, or going to the movies, to be appropriate for pre-teen group dating. Boys and girls can interact with one another in a safe, no-pressure environment.
As a general rule, children should not be allowed to engage in one-on-one dating until age 16, according to Dr. Ron Eagar, a pediatrician at Denver Health Medical Center. Even then, parents should set some ground rules. Express the importance of checking in with mom and dad on occasion while on the date, and discuss appropriate behavior. Create guidelines for your child to follow when it comes to dating, such as curfews or social media restrictions, and discuss the consequences of not following these rules.
Love and Heartbreak
Crushes and “puppy love” are common among adolescents, and heartbreak is inevitable. Talk to your child about what it means to “love” someone and answer any questions openly and honestly. Romantic love is a new emotion for kids and shouldn’t be minimized by adults. Help your child cope with the turmoil of a breakup and assure him or her that the sadness will pass. Encourage socialization with friends, and be supportive when they need it most.