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What smart teenagers know about dating relationships and sex

"A lot of kids have this idea that it's no big deal." Kids who think this may be missing crucial messages about sexually transmitted diseases and self-esteem.

The hours between and p.m., when many parents are still at work, are prime time for trouble."Kids almost seem to be running the bases backward," says Marisa Nightingale, of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, referring to the new sexuality.How do you help your child navigate this complicated world? The groups themselves aren't necessarily a problem-they give teens the opportunity to develop friendships with lots of people, and they take away the strangeness that kids might feel when they're alone on a date. If a lot of kids are doing something questionable, the few who feel it's wrong may have trouble speaking up.Kids still start pairing off around the same age (between 12 and 14, with more serious relationships usually reserved for the later teen years), and parents still worry about them experimenting with sex.But these days, there's even more reason for concern."Parents need to understand that this is a very real risk," says Parry Aftab, executive director of

Wanda Yee, a mother of three daughters from Ridgeway, New Jersey, requires that they keep their accounts set to private, an option offered by the site so that parents can determine who has access to their kid's page.

Then waiting for him to come to the house to pick you up? "Even the concept of dating is outdated," says Beth-Marie Jelsma, a psychotherapist in Rochester, New York.

Remember sitting by the phone, waiting for a boy to call and ask for a date?

But that doesn't mean kids aren't sexually active: Studies have found that some 50 percent of teenagers, ages 15 to 19, have engaged in oral sex.

"I have an 11-year-old middle schooler who came home saying that a boy wanted her to have oral sex with him in the parking lot," says Tonja Krautter, a psychologist in Los Gatos, California, who works with adolescents.

(Also, be sure you know the numbers of your child's friends.) Internet sites like myspace.com, facebook.com, and xanga.com, where teens can post pictures and trade messages, allow kids to meet tons of new people.