It is a peak time of physical growth for boys and girls. Their appearance begins to be important to them so they brush their teeth and shower more. These physical changes often drive behavior, especially when it comes to their burgeoning sexuality—so figuring out when and how to respond is like a high-wire act for parents. They respond more strongly to social rewards like a friend’s approval or disapproval.One reason that adolescence is such a complicated time is because the brain is still changing. And most teens overwhelmingly prefer the company of their friends over their parents.
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.
The key is to guide, not control, your children in appropriate ways to interact with other kids, says Patricia Nan Anderson, Ed D, educational psychologist and author of Parenting: A Field Guide.
“Part of learning how to manage one’s own affairs includes making decisions so have a heart to heart with your child,” she says.
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.