Apparently having made his point, Grant didn't ask Laurie out again.
Another important influence, experts say, is media and advertisements that encourage children to acquire the trappings of adulthood.
Popular shows like NBC's "Friends," which is full of sexual innuendo and glamorizes drinking and other adult behavior by twenty-somethings, is viewed in millions of US homes. They are learning things at a younger age," says Grant's mother.
Although not inherently harmful, early dating can put youths at risk for drug use, promiscuity, and other delinquent behavior, experts 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.
"When you blur the distinction between children's roles and adult roles, it spills over into other activities," Steinberg says.
More children also have firsthand role models for dating because their parents are single or divorced.In general, white children in rural settings, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans date later than African-Americans and white children in urban areas, says Brad Brown, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Changes in the American family are leading preteens to assume adult roles earlier.With the rise in the number of single-parent and dual-income families, youths are more likely to care for siblings and cook meals.Studies show that youths who withdraw from friends, family, and school to devote time to partners, as well as those who become sexually involved early, are at greater risk for delinquent behavior.Girls, in particular, are more likely to rush ahead with dating at the expense of schoolwork, says Candice Feiring, a pediatrician at the Robert Woods Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N. "Girls are bombarded with the message that happiness is having the right boyfriend.You are under no obligation to be friends or more with these people just to save their feelings, but be kind. Treat everyone with the kindness you would hope for your own baby sister, whom I know you adore.