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Putting limits on what kids can do gives them time to understand in a more relaxed and informal setting, while giving them the confidence and skills they will need to move away from group settings.

Like adults, most kids think their peers are having more sex than they actually are.

"Dating can be exciting and high energy but [generally] kids tend to prevent each other from becoming too intimate in those situations." Despite the statistics, there are some adolescents who become "couples" and engage in "heavy activities" such as petting or actual intercourse.

These behaviors are not healthy at this age and carry both behavioural and physical risks, emphasizes Connolly.

With this knowledge of the dating scene, why would anyone allow their tween to start dating?

"Teenagers often wonder two things: how to date and what a healthy relationship is," says Jennifer Connolly, Ph D, Director of the La Marsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution at York University.

"Parents should take an active role in teaching and helping their kids understand what normal dating behaviours are." By understanding what "healthy" dating is at this age, parents can set limits and protect their child.

At the end of the day, "it's better than saying they shouldn't date at all." "What is healthy is being in a group of boys and girls and transitioning from same-sex-only groups into groups in contact with the other sex," says Connolly.

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"Kids at this age want relationships that are fun, and that can bring them together to learn about boys and girls. Unlike someone in their 30s, young teens want to experience dating from a much less committed and long-term perspective.Although defined gay identity is not typical until later adolescence or early adulthood, "interacting with the opposite sex at this age can be part of the gay youth's attempts to resolve his or her identity questions," says Connolly."Parents, educators, and adolescents can benefit from knowing that light sexual behaviours can be considered normal at this time, whereas heavy sexual behavior, especially intercourse, is not," says Connolly.In order to deal with this, parents must have good communication with their child, which may require outside help.If your child is having sex in her early teens, Connolly suggests that parents speak with a family counsellor or a social worker.

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