“Teens live off of Facebook in seventh and eighth grade in a way that we don’t as adults,” says Ponton.“And they are not prepared to take the ramifications of having their sexual and romantic lives propelled into the mainstream world.Some relationships are very innocent and age-appropriate, some are in the middle and some are having sexual relations with a boyfriend or girlfriend then move on to the next,” Smith says. Parents need to have these conversations early and often with their children.“Unfortunately, it seems we have more kids choosing to be involved in sexual relationships at a much earlier age.” So what can parents do to help their kids navigate the difficult waters of dating during middle school? “The first time that you talk with your child about relationships shouldn’t be when there is a big problem,” Corcoran says.They’re still kids.”While the academic studies aren’t in yet, she says she has seen a lot more seventh and eighth graders in her practice who are suffering depressed reactions or engaging in dangerous risk taking after their romantic and sexual lives, and breakups, were exposed on the Internet.“With Romeo and Juliet, one town was difficult,” she says.But unlike substance abuse and depression—the two other horsemen of a teenage apocalypse—dating and grades are easier to spot and easier for parents to talk to their kids about.
Those who dated the most were shooting toward disaster: they were four times more likely to drop out of high school and reported twice as much substance abuse as those who were dating less.They were laughing about another friend who was “dating” a girl. It got me wondering what exactly “dating” means to middle schoolers, and whether it’s a good idea at that age.As many parents know, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 can be the most perplexing and frustrating humans on the planet.Recently I was driving my 14-year-old son and his friends to soccer practice.In the backseat they were chattering away, and in the front seat, I was the proverbial fly on the wall. “Yeah, they have been hooking up for a while.” Dating? I wondered how they could be talking about these things when they couldn’t even drive a car or pay for the movies.What’s more, the students who dated since middle school also experienced greater risk for depression because of the impact of romantic breakups. So many of these relationships last a week or three weeks. “In school they should not have to focus on dating, but on promoting friendships and healthy relationships.” Kelly Smith, a counselor at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage, Ind., agrees, saying that she spends much of her time dealing with these social and emotional issues.