Perhaps the thought of all those sweet young couples slow dancing under paper streamers coaxes a nostalgic sigh or two. If you’re the parent of a child who has recently started middle school, get ready for a decidedly new dating scene.Yes, the prom as we knew it still exists, but even its drama pales in comparison to today’s boy-girl relationship issues.“It’s not your parents’ dating anymore,” concedes Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Health.“As parents, you absolutely want the opportunity to establish those values early on so they develop healthy attitudes that carry them through adolescence and beyond.” Teens may say they want independence, but when it comes to dating and relationships, experts agree setting limits is important.Rules offer kids a sense of security and ultimately teach them how to set their own boundaries — an invaluable skill as they prepare to leave the nest, Roffman says. “And they know they have to keep the location service on their phones turned on so we know where they are.” Experts also encourage parents to talk to their children about setting and respecting sexual boundaries, whether in person or online.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.
As prom season approaches, it’s easy to conjure romantic thoughts of dating rituals we experienced long ago.If parents notice abrupt changes in their teens, such as suddenly dropping or adding friends, it’s time to talk, Griswold notes.“On TV and in the movies we see this idea that being in love and being in a relationship means that you have to spend 100 percent of your time with that person,” she says.For instance, among Megan’s circle of about seven close girlfriends, only two have boyfriends.The rest are either completely single or talking to someone.“Maybe among the younger girls it’s more important to have a boyfriend, but as we’ve gotten older, it’s just not as important,” she says.Parents should start by asking their child about his or her expectations.