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Teen Dating: A Mom's Guide


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

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by Barbara Whitaker

Everything's changed. What you must know-and do-to protect your child.

 

Remember sitting by the phone, waiting for a boy to call and ask for a date? Then waiting for him to come to the house to pick you up? Well, get over it-dating is different now. "Even the concept of dating is outdated," says Beth-Marie Jelsma, a psychotherapist in Rochester, New York.

Kids still start pairing off around the same age (between 12 and 14, with more serious relationships usually reserved for the later teen years), and parents still worry about them experimenting with sex. But these days, there's even more reason for concern. "Kids almost seem to be running the bases backward," says Marisa Nightingale, of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, referring to the new sexuality. How do you help your child navigate this complicated world? The first step is to understand it.

Teens go out in groups

The groups themselves aren't necessarily a problem-they give teens the opportunity to develop friendships with lots of people, and they take away the strangeness that kids might feel when they're alone on a date. But peer pressure can be much stronger in a group. If a lot of kids are doing something questionable, the few who feel it's wrong may have trouble speaking up. That's where you come in: Be sure to talk to your child often about what your expectations are, whether they concern sex or drinking or relationships. And ask your teen to think about what she would do if she weren't in a group, says Sabrina Weill, author of The Real Truth About Teens and Sex. "Say to her, ‘If nobody was drinking a beer, would you? If nobody your age was having sex, would you?'"

Kids have sex in the afternoon

Teens aren't pairing off just in the evening; they're also hanging out together right after school. The hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., when many parents are still at work, are prime time for trouble. Researchers at the RAND Corporation have found that teens are more likely to have sex when there is less after-school supervision. So if your daughter is home when you're not, show up unexpectedly on occasion or ask a friendly neighbor to check up on her.

Kids make dates by cell phone

Chances are you won't hear the phone ring-and you won't get to chat (even briefly!) with your kids' friends when they call. Tami Beck, a mother of two in Shawnee, Kansas, remembers when a boy came to pick up her 15-year-old daughter and called from the driveway.

"He pulls in and gets on his cell phone and says, ‘I'm here,'" Beck recalls. "I said to my daughter, ‘Tell him he needs to come in. Your parents want to meet him.'" And to make sure their kids end up where they say they're going to be, some parents insist their kids call home by landline to confirm their whereabouts using caller ID.

Kids also use their cell phones to spread the news about parties. Beck demands that her daughter turn off her cell at 10:30 on weeknights and at midnight on weekends (before this, calls were coming in as late as 5:00 a.m.!). If you're concerned about calls your kid is making, another strategy is to use shared minutes on family plans; that way, you can scrutinize the phone bills. (Also, be sure you know the numbers of your child's friends.)

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