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Young Love: Talking to Your Tween About Dating and Romance

1. Ask questions.

Many parents assume their tween has no interest in the opposite sex because he or she hasn't said anything about it. They may even know that kids the same age "date," but are convinced that doesn't include their son or daughter. In fact, two-thirds of parents believe they know "a lot" about tweens' relationships, but only 51% of tweens agree—while 20% say mom and dad don't know a thing.

One reason for the disconnect is that parents think of dates as actual physical events—going to the movies, for example, or a dance. Tweens, at least in this century, don't. They socialize online in a way that is invisible to adults, says Jenna Saul, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Marshfield, Wisconsin. "So you have parents thinking their daughter has never dated while according to her, she's on her third boyfriend," she says. "It seems silly to parents but is very real to kids."

To bridge the gap, Saul suggests listening to your kids' conversations when they're on the phone, or when there's a group of them in the car. "Look for openings," she says. "Try saying, 'I heard you and your friends talking about crushes. Is there someone you like? What do you like about him?'" Try the same tactic with online activity: Find out whom she chats with and how that person makes her feel. (Yes, you can also check the chat logs. But the point is to get regular conversations going.)