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When Should Dating Start?

Middle School Expert Advice from Judith Lee Ladd

Q: Should I allow my 11-year-old to date?

A: First we need to define "dating." In early middle school, "going with" or "dating" often means being attached in name, in art work on notebooks, and occasionally by hand-holding.

Even when relationships become more serious, they're often more like having a new friend than an intimate relationship. These attractions are very special and should be encouraged. As parents, we can provide supervised opportunities in which the relationships can happen. Escorting your child and his date to the movies is a safe way to introduce your child to dating. Setting limits on activities such as length or number of phone calls can keep things balanced instead of "going overboard." To prohibit these activities only heightens the attraction and sends a message that he is not ready or that he must be different or that you do not recognize his growing mature nature. Assisting the relationship to develop gives parents some control and real awareness. The horror stories of early sexual activity and wild parties at early ages often come when young people feel parents do not understand and parents are not given a chance to exercise or model healthy decision-making.

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Judith Lee Ladd is a former president of the American School Counselor Association, a national organization of K-12 and post-secondary school counselors.


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