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Dating is when we move from groups to individuals. The twelve to fifteen range is where they may be starting to identify that there is one person they are attracted to, or kind of makes them giggle more, or they like to be around a little bit more. Then as they get into the dating range somewhere between sixteen to eighteen, they start to really identify that person and spend more time with them. For many kids, dating is different, dating may be just telephone calls once or twice a week at night, or dating may going to a movie, or dating may be seeing each other regularly every day or every weekend so it becomes a pattern once the comfortableness between the two people happens.
An age appropriate time to date depends on many factors, whether it's cultural, it's family dynamics and family values and beliefs, as well as what's going on within the family. A child will want to stay home and not necessarily reach to date if they're happy within their home environment and safe. If the family does not have the continuity and the connectivity that they should have, and the functioning that they should have, a child will often times reach out to date earlier, or reach for another family, hence a gang, which is a family that accepts them. So if you have a child who's not fitting into a dynamic or a dynamic that's really not functioning well, your child will tend to want to go out and find their own, and that's when dating will happen earlier. Your child is a social being as you are, so their social life will evolve and change as they grow, so they'll start at the age of 3 to 5 and move on from groups and different kinds of groups, to riding in cars with other people, to then sleep overs. So it evolves in time and it's a progressive evolvement, and you will know by your child's ability to connect to that process, and their response to that process, about when to move to the next step.
The things to discuss with your child before they begin the process of dating are built on the building blocks of the foundation you built at the age of three and four and five. Such issues as how to handle themselves, what their manners are, how to reach for help when they need help, what kinds of things they should do, what kinds of things will show them that they do need help, what is a dangerous situation, how safety comes first and those kinds of things. And it builds itself so that when they're eight and nine and they're going to someone's house, their table manners and cleaning up after themselves and saying please and saying thank you. To when you drop them off out, you call me or you do whatever. And it keeps evolving itself to the point where when you put the key in that ignition, you know that this is what you're doing and you're not drinking and make sure there's a designated driver and to put your seatbelt on. So it keeps building and it should start early on.
When your child starts thinking about dating, there are rules that should be set in place that are confortable for you as a family as well as culturally dictated. Whatever you feel you and your husband or partner feel is appropriate for your child and the way that you want them to date, are the kinds of foundations and rules you'll put in place. It will be beneficial if you have your child partake in that process. For example, if you want your child home at 12, and your child wants to come home at 2, meet somewhere in the middle and that way they'll feel they had some input into that process and a say. Similarly to when they were 5, 6 or 8 and showed some negative behavior that you wanted to stop, you would have made a behavioral plan with them as part of it. So incorporating the child into the process will ensure the best outcome for you and for them.
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