But moms who've already been through this stage say it needn't be cause for stress; the key is to figure out whether your particular child is truly ready to begin dating. Nichole N., a mom of five, spaning from age 6 to 25, believes that it "depends on the maturity of the child." And Angie B.adds that "The age for dating is different [in] every family," and that much depends on a particular child's level of preparedeness.
Although not inherently harmful, early dating can put youths at risk for drug use, promiscuity, and other delinquent behavior, experts say.
In some communities, children are taking an interest in pairing off with the opposite sex at a time in life when their parents' generation was preoccupied with baseball practices or ballet lessons.
Their fascination with dating has little to do with budding sexuality, psychologists say.
They advise parents not to push the timetable, but to try to understand why a child wants to date and respond with appropriate guidance and limits.
Early experiments with romance vary widely, from the childish: "Tommy likes so-and-so and he's going to kiss her on the playground"; to the pseudo-sophisticated: young twosomes seeing a movie unchaperoned.