Although defined gay identity is not typical until later adolescence or early adulthood, "interacting with the opposite sex at this age can be part of the gay youth's attempts to resolve his or her identity questions," says Connolly.

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"Parents should take an active role in teaching and helping their kids understand what normal dating behaviours are." By understanding what "healthy" dating is at this age, parents can set limits and protect their child.

At the end of the day, "it's better than saying they shouldn't date at all." "What is healthy is being in a group of boys and girls and transitioning from same-sex-only groups into groups in contact with the other sex," says Connolly.

Dating is only one of many possible ways to develop self-esteem.

"Kids at this age want relationships that are fun, and that can bring them together to learn about boys and girls. Unlike someone in their 30s, young teens want to experience dating from a much less committed and long-term perspective.

Connolly suggests encouraging your child to hang out with their friends at your house where you can monitor them and watch them interact.

If you think your child is being abused, you need to engage your child in an open discussion in order to help.

"Even in middle school studies, we have seen that abuse and aggression can occur.

It can happen out of the blue for a kid," Connolly says.

In her study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, Connolly found the majority of 12- and 13-year-old adolescents were largely confined to sexually "light activities." These include hugging, holding hands, and kissing.