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Hone relationship skills before dating
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David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University and author of "The Hurried Child," lists several reasons why early dating is a problem for young people. He says youth younger than age 14 do not have the social and interpersonal skills that are required in dating situations.

Know that you, the parent, are still the most important influence in your child’s life. By helping your child delay dating, you are helping him or her be involved in appropriate activities that will build skills he or she will need as a teen and young adult.

Elkind lists several problems that early dating often leads to:

Relationship skills stay superficial

Boys and girls who start dating early probably won’t learn some of the skills they will need to have healthy relationships later on. Unfortunately, many young people learn about male/female relationships from TV and movies and don’t really know what is appropriate in a dating relationship. Your children will likely act in a way they think people should act on a date, rather than developing a real relationship with the other person.

Children spend less time with same-sex friends

When young people begin dating, they often spend less time playing and having fun with same-sex friends. These friendships help youth learn many skills about getting along with others that they may not develop in the more artificial role of dating.

Premature sexual involvement

Research shows that young people who start dating early are more likely to become sexually involved. One factor involved in early sexual activity is peer pressure — a dating partner pressures the other person to have sex.

Younger teens are much more affected by peer pressure than older youth and, therefore, are more likely to give in to having sex.

Also, studies show that youth who become sexually involved when they are still very young are more likely to have problems in later relationships than are adolescents who delay becoming involved sexually.

Personal identity is underdeveloped

Development specialists believe that people need a sense of personal identity before they can be really close to another person.

In other words, if a young person does not know who he or she really is, that boy or girl cannot relate in a healthy way to a person of the opposite sex.

For example, a boy who does not know what he wants and expects in a relationship may be too easily talked into feelings and behavior for which he is not yet ready.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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