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How socialization develops. Learning how to interact with other children begins at an early age, but dating begins during adolescence. There has been a significant social change in the past few years; children often begin to socialize with the opposite sex in small social groups. Although some of this behavior was always a part of the social spectrum, it is now even more so. As children grow older, they grow more interested in the opposite sex. When this interest heightens depends upon the child’s maturity and the mores of the family, school, and social group.
The start of dating. Somewhere between twelve and fifteen years of age, children begin to express an interest in socializing with the opposite sex. Usually, children in this age group date in small groups of four to six. Movies, miniature gold, bowling, birthday parties, and so on, are the setting for these get-togethers. Many children, however, prefer nonstructured activities, such as hanging out at the malls, shopping centers, or parks. Most kids know where the best hangouts are. The difference between structured and nonstructured activities usually is the presence of adult supervision. Hanging out usually is not supervised. Children of this age group begin to move away from adults and into the world of their peers, where sex, drugs, and rock and roll may or may not be part of the scene.
Children in this age group usually are concerned with honing their image, learning about the opposite sex, learning and developing social skills, and looking cool among their friends. Of course, not all children follow this pattern. You may have a perfectly normal and healthy child who shows little interest in the opposite sex until a much later time.
Children in this age group may be ready to join social groups and date when they demonstrate the following behaviors:
If children can follow these five functions in a consistent way, they are usually ready for the privileges of group socialization or group dating. If children begin to fail in any one of these areas, it is appropriate for parents to restrict them temporarily until they learn how to develop more self-control.
The development of dating. As children mature between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, dating starts to become formal. Sex, love, and intimacy become the issues involved. Children learn about responsibility in a relationship and different levels of communication. Feelings can soar and crash. Deep relationships can be formed and hearts can be broken. It is through this reality testing that adolescents become young adults.
Children in this age group are ready to date when they exhibit the following behaviors:
If the child has not mastered the abilities listed for the twelve to fifteen age group, it is very likely he or she will have trouble mastering the abilities in the sixteen to nineteen age group.
Parental concern about dating arises when there is a large age difference in the children involved, for instance, a child in the twelve to fifteen age group wants to date a child in the sixteen to nineteen age group. It is usually not a good idea for these age groups to mix, because the older child and the younger child do not share similar interests, or if they do, they don’t remain similar for very long. As a rule of thumb, any dating combination in the teen years where there is more than a three-year age difference should be examined carefully.
What you can do as a parent. Parents have both a firm and a delicate role to play. Parents should be firm in instilling their children with the parents’ values and mores. Parents should be delicate, however, in discussing these values and mores with their children, because the children may be embarrassed. Children are often confused by dating, by their own growing sexuality, and by the demands of both their parents and society. If parents come down hard on a child, the child may rebel and refuse to discuss the issue with parents. Ideally, a child should be able to come to parents for advice and counsel.