By Sarah Mahoney
For many adults who grew up with heat doodles and do-you-like-me-check-yes-or-no notes in middle school, watching their kids hook up and break up via Facebook, Twitter and text feels not only alien but scary, because it's often unsupervised. Try to institute ground rules about "romantic" interaction early on, even before there's any curiosity. This reassures your child that it's okay to be interested in getting to know someone better. Spelling out the parameters in advance also lessens the possibility of conflict later on. "Of course, the message may be different for each family based on their culture and dynamic," says Fran Harding, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services center, which tracks teen behavior. "The important thing is that the policies be very clear, consistent and enforced." Kids should know exactly where parents stand when it comes to their digital lives, as well as actual dating. "And they should be aware of the consequences," says Harding, "if they don't follow the established family rules."
First, let your kids know you'll be checking their social media pages and browser history from time to time. It's true that much of tween romance seems to unfold over chat, says Jessica Gottlieb of Los Angeles, whose 14-year-old daughter appears to have been bitten by the love bug overnight. "But it's actually a good thing," says Jessica, "because every few days I read her chat logs and see her conversations are mercifully innocent and appropriate."
This kind of monitoring also applies to texts. Parents may detect a problematic relationship if someone seems too controlling, constantly demanding to know a kid's whereabouts. In fact, technology may tip you off that your tween is in a relationship in the first place. While text content—"Wassup? LOL!"—won't tell you much, volume will: Lots of texts could mean he or she matters. On Facebook, see who comments most often on your kid's posts, and be sure to check his Relationship Status. (In tween parlance, a Facebook-official couple is practically engaged.)
Then sit back and relax. You survived tween romance—and your kids will too.