Dating in the school yard

Peer groups play an enormous role in preventing violence and promoting healthy teen relationships.They are, in essence, the first responders—the people who our children will look to before coming to us as parents, Corcoran says.Students who reported dating since middle school demonstrated the poorest study skills in the group and were four times more likely to drop out of high school.Lead researcher Pamela Orinpas says that the study also found that these early daters were twice as likely to have consumed alcohol, smoked cigarettes, and used marijuana in middle school and high school, all risky behaviors. One of the biggest take-home messages from the study, Orinpas says, is that kids don’t have to be dating at that age.

One minute they are happy with life; the next, they hate everything.So coupling an adolescent’s risk-taking with his love for reward plus the innate need to establish his own sexual identity can mean that previously innocuous behavior can lead, if unchecked, to high-risk activities. While most people think of dating as getting in the car, picking someone up, and taking them to the movies or dinner, that’s an adult’s definition.In fact, changes in an adolescent’s brain around puberty may contribute to an adolescent's seeking out romantic relationships and expanding them into sexual relationships, says B. Casey, Ph D, director of Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology. Adolescents don’t see dating that way, says Casey Corcoran, program director for Children & Youth at Futures Without Violence. The spectrum of informal to formal relationships is wide,” Corcoran says.“Unfortunately, it seems we have more kids choosing to be involved in sexual relationships at a much earlier age.” So what can parents do to help their kids navigate the difficult waters of dating during middle school? “The first time that you talk with your child about relationships shouldn’t be when there is a big problem,” Corcoran says.“It needs to be an ongoing regular conversation.” Guide, don’t control.

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