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“The fact is, you’re sending them off into a world they’ve not been in before,” Roffman says.

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They need to talk about boundaries, and they need to start the conversation early.” Sharing age-appropriate information about sex and sexuality helps keep kids safe and healthy.

And when parents show they are available to talk — even when the subject matter may be uncomfortable — they pave the way for richer, values-laden conversations about dating and relationships, according to Deborah Roffman, a Baltimore-based sex education teacher and author who has worked with students and parents at several area schools.

Most experts and parents consulted for this article say group “dates” to the mall, movies or even a friend’s house are fine as long as they’re supervised, even if it means just being in the same shopping center.

Ed Parrish, a banker and father of four from Graham, has noticed that his 13-year-old son has started asking his older sister if her friend’s younger sister can join her on visits to the Parrish home. Sometimes, his son will go to the movies with guy friends and “meet up” with a group of girls from school, Parrish says.

s prom season approaches, it’s easy to conjure romantic thoughts of dating rituals we experienced long ago.