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We caught up with two local experts on teen relationships and sexuality and asked for their tips on setting guidelines for kids entering the dating game.Lynn Ponton, University of California San Francisco professor of adolescent psychiatry and author of The Sex Lives of Teenagers and The Romance of Risk, and Nancy Brown, a developmental psychologist and education projects manager for Palo Alto Medical Foundation, both agree: Parents should set the stage for safe dating long before their child becomes a teen.What parts of a relationship make your child most happy? When your kids are preteens, it’s time to bring sex into the discussion.Besides biology, bring up some of the risks and moral considerations.

“Discuss with them what they’ll do if they start to feel unsafe,” says Ponton.

Don’t be worried that talking about it will encourage them to do it, Brown adds. “The more they know about the risks, the less sex they have as teens.” Besides looking for signs that your dating teen is having unprotected sex, parents should always be watchful for signs of abuse, Ponton and Brown say. Subtler signs include unusual anxiety, secretiveness, poor appetite, low self-esteem and depression.

If their boyfriend or girlfriend regularly puts them down, has power over them, controls their activities and choices or threatens them harm, parents need to step in.

It’s much easier to talk when your kids become teens if you began the dialogue years earlier.

“When you start talking to them about sex when they’re 11, it allows them time to figure out what’s important to them,” says Brown, who has worked with teens for 27 years and is the mother of two daughters ages 18 and 21.

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