Raising a Little Heartbreaker

Has your adolescent been crooning along with Britney Spears on the CD player, singing, "I'm not that innocent"? The teen heartthrob's recent chart-topper, "Oops I Did It Again," made it sound popular to play with a boy's heart. Do you worry that your youngster aspires to be a heartbreaker? Does your 12-year-old seem to flit from one crush to the next? Do you find alarming your son's endless e-crushes as well as all the girls in chase of your baby?

Boys and girls both leave broken hearts behind like forgotten litter. But don't panic: What you are witnessing is quite normal. As reported in Parenting 911: How to Safeguard and Rescue Your 10- to 15-Year-Old, a Roper poll of 10- to 13-year-olds shows that 62 percent say the opposite sex is "very important" to them. That's different from saying they are ready to form reliable, ardent relationships. Suspend your adult standards for judging romantic behavior, and look at these escapades from the point of view of a 10- to 15-year-old.

At the age of 11 or 12, a girl is not looking for someone to love, not really. Rather, she is looking for the answer to a very important developmental question: "Am I lovable?" Only peers have her answer. When she gets a "yes," she feels good about herself -- good, but not secure. And so she moves on to test herself again with someone else. Middle school trysts typically last two or three weeks, barely enough time for you, the parent, to learn the love object's name.

Your son or daughter is not so much a heartbreaker as an explorer in a brand new game, the dating game. Here's how you can help:

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