Question: A 13-year-old wants to start dating. How should parents approach this situation? (Consider children of both genders.)
Answer: When a family talks to me about having a young teenage daughter who's interested in dating, I think about a couple of things. First of all, most 13-year-olds may be interested but aren't interested in dating but aren't actually interested in being on a date. And so I think it's perfectly appropriate for her to become interested and having relationships with boys and being interested in the opposite sex but not necessarily wanting to spend time, dating like you would think about a 16- or 17-year-old dating.
The other thing that happens is sometimes there are 13-year-olds out there who actually look like they're 16 or 17 and are engaging in this kind of interest simply because they're getting a lot of attention from older boys. It makes a big difference what the issue is in terms of how a parent should respond.
For parents of a normally developing 13-year-old who is interested in the opposite sex, group activities are probably the best way for that 13-year-old to get comfortable with herself in the company of boys, and for parents to feel like they're not discouraging her interest but also not providing access or over-supporting, if you will, her interest in dating.
For that 13-year-old who looks more like she's 16 and is getting the attention of older teenage boys I think sometimes a closer relationship with that teenage daughter -- with her mother and her father -- is probably the best antidote. Because the teenage daughter really needs to know that the most important relationships in her life are really her parent's relationship with her rather than the boyfriend.
If there is some problem in the parent child relationship it's not uncommon for these somewhat mature appearing 13-year-olds to seek supported interest in the opposite sex. And sometimes for this age group that ends in problems that most families really wouldn't want to have to address over time.