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Part 1 - The Dating Game:

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

How many times have we, or some we know, joked about the possibility of setting up two adorable infants? Our (well-intentioned) intentions are frequently at a point well before the youngsters are even walking or talking and far from having, and expressing an interest in the opposite sex. Still the thought “does” cross our minds and sooner or later it’s going to cross theirs.

While experts agree that a healthy curiosity, preoccupation, and intrigue with the opposite sex is normal and healthy, it may often be a pre-mature “obsession” spurred by society, (unhealthy) media exposure, and by competitive peer/sibling pressures.

Authorities note, that while innocence, like ignorance, can be bliss, but a safe and significant understanding of bodily changes and (healthy) relationships and (age) appropriate behaviors give teens and young men and women a more proper perspective and powerful edge in dealing with dating and intimacy issues. And, experts agree that it all begins with model behavior at home, and an open, honest exchange of ideas, values, morals and communication.

Remember, sometimes the body develops at a much more rapid pace than the mind. In fact experts assert that this is more often than not, the “norm”. Adolescents should have a healthy concern about their sexuality (appearance and the opposite sex) but there need to be some very clearly defined and outlined limits. Young teens and adolescents alike need FRIENDS, and NOT LOVERS (and that includes boyfriends, girlfriends and serious relationships).

Some expert advice on relating to teens about relationships includes:

1. Allow your teen to express his/her interest in “someone special” openly and honestly. DO NOT deny them their interest and curiosity and most of all, DO NOT deny them the experience (that will only make them want it and pursue it more vigorously). Instead allow them to gather in your home, or to go on supervised group “dates”.

2. Work WITH your teen to establish acceptable “dating” rules. These should include:

· Familiarizing yourself not only with his/her date, but also with your child’s friends and his/her parent or group supervisor.

· Personally meeting all prospects and “dates” (perhaps even their parents) before allowing your child to go out with him/her.

· Do not allow your child’s date to wait for him/her outside….instead set a standard for the future by asking (and expecting) them to not only ring the bell but come in and make a personal greeting before going out.

· Ask for information including where they are going, what they will be doing, who will be joining them, and what time they’re expected to be home.

· Request your daughter/son stay in “constant” contact including calling when they arrive at their destination and prior to leaving or making any unanticipated stops or plans.

***Set boundaries and limitations prior to the date so as to establish an acceptable understanding between you and your child and not embarrass him/her.***

3. Spend quality time with your teen (as much as you can) and always show him/her affection and attention (without being publicly embarrassing) so that they won’t go seeking unwholesome attention from outside sources.

4. Show affection to your spouse/partner, and if you are divorced and in a relationship exhibit restraint and constraint leading by example the parameters of a healthy, loving relationship and appropriate behaviors therein.

5. Give your teen sexual freedom, at least in conversation. DON’T be afraid to discuss (or allow them to discuss) relevant and pertinent issues and thoroughly explain the beauty and joy of sex under the proper circumstances. Take the “mystery” and “ illicitness” out of sex. Instead use the opportunity to talk about “taboo” topics that may lead them astray, enhance their self-esteem and understanding of relationships and healthy personal boundaries, and offer them options to be proud of and make intimacy something special to work towards and eventually look forward to.

6. Keep an open door policy. Firstly, do not condemn them for their inquisitiveness or perhaps some “inappropriate” thoughts or behaviors. Simply show love, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness and help them make better choices and decisions. Secondly respectfully request they stay within eye and earshot at all times, that you know (and meet) their “love interest” and that all doors remain open when “friends” are over.

7. Give them their space. While you want and need to know what they are doing (at all times), consider leaving the room or inviting a friend of your own over, and make them feel like you are not (necessarily) hovering over them. Allow them to feel “grown up” and respected and let them know that you are only doing so because you are confident that they will make respectful, “grown-up” decisions. Delegating authority (to them) for their own actions also helps build confidence, self-esteem, responsibility, and builds a better relationship within the family (because everyone feels listened to and respected).

8. Explain, don’t “impose”. Imposing your opinion may be viewed negatively. Explaining your concerns, decisions and reasoning allows for greater communication and understanding. Refrain from simply prohibiting certain friends, actions, activities and behaviors. Talk to your teen and clarify your reasoning. Keep in mind that young(er) teens may sometimes cross the line of “appropriateness” or “break the rules” without even knowing they are doing so. Remember, they are caught between childhood and (young) “adulthood”, and are trying to deal with and understand new boundaries. They may acknowledge that “touching” is wrong, but not comprehend why they can no longer “wrestle” with, “grab” their friend or simply “change” (outfits) in front of them (like they did when they were younger).

Next: Part 2 - "Dirty" Little Secrets

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