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These first relationships usually don’t go beyond chatting, posing for pictures later posted on social media and requests to attend coed group outings.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.A fairly high bar stands between this phase and actual “dating,” wherein one member of the couple — usually the boy — officially asks the other out.Megan*, a senior at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, says only about 20 percent of these relationships result in an official couple.Broken hearts after a breakup are real, too, and just as with adults, there’s no timetable for recovery.What to watch for: If your teen experiences signs of depression weeks after a breakup, appears to be arguing or behaving differently with their boyfriend/girlfriend, withdraws from other friends or shows signs of physical abuse such as bruises or scratches, check with your doctor, school counselor or a community psychologist right away, advise both Gurwitch and Reardon.The group eats dinner together, poses for pictures together and attends the dance together. ’”What to watch for: Officially, it’s OK for kids who aren’t part of a large friend group to go with just a date or with another couple, and it’s OK for kids to go “stag.” Unofficially, there are unwritten rules that your teen knows might discourage him from attending even if he wants to.
He feels comfortable with these early forays because “we’ve given him the talk about the need to respect young ladies and what we expect of him.”What to watch for: Cellphones and social media can lay traps for preteens and young teens.This can mean discussing your family’s views on sex before marriage, as well as frank talk about abstinence, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.Case in point: There’s a myth in teen circles that you can’t get STDs from oral sex, Gurwitch notes.Kids hook up with people they’ve just met, casual acquaintances and even friends. Jennifer, when asked if hooking up with a guy meant a girl had a crush on him, says dismissively, “Nope.” And Megan concurs: “It would seem very strange to me that a girl would think there’s something there” after a hookup.What to watch for: It’s time to have the “values and expectations” talk if you haven’t already.