I was recently talking with a parent of a fifteen-year-old girl.  I asked her what her daughter was up to that night, and she said she was hanging out with her friend Jake.  “Are they dating”, I asked.  “Oh no, they’re just friends.  They hang out a lot, but she hangs out with a lot of guys.  She just has a lot of guy friends.”  I couldn’t help myself, I had to keep pushing a bit: “What do they do together?”  This mom continues to explain what she knew of her daughter’s social life and time with her many guy “friends”.  She unfortunately didn’t know much. 

It sounded like this parent allowed her daughter to have quite a lot of unsupervised one-on-one time with these guys because they were just “friends” and not her “boyfriend”.  What so many parents don’t realize is that a lot of kids today don’t date the way we used to.  It seems to me that traditional high school relationships are a thing of the past.  A lot of teenagers are trading dating for “hooking up” and having “friends with benefits” relationships to “steady relationships”.  I talk to a lot of kids that do plan on going to parties and “hooking up” with a guy or girl when they go out.  This means they’re either having sex or engaging in a lot of physically intimate acts and then agreeing to go separate ways.  Sometimes teenagers are continuing to “use” another for hookups, but act as though they don’t care if the other person hooks up with anyone else.  It’s a relationship with no strings attached.  I’ve been shocked by how many of the girls I’ve talked with who have hooked up with one another’s friends.  This isn’t to say that hearts and emotions aren’t involved.  They often are, but they rest below the surface.  With the advent of Internet pornography, the sexualization of media and the accessibility of sexual content, kids don’t always know how to ask for more or wait for more.  

Surveys have indicated that tweens as young as 12 are admitting to “hooking up”.  And while many parents think that sexual activity is happening at night while they are out with friends, teens are reporting that they are more apt to have sexual encounters with friends between the hours of 3 and 6pm on weekdays.  Additionally, easy access to pornography and the pornification of our culture has familiarized them with quick, “easy” sexual interactions.    As teens began to experiment sexually online and as sexual barriers are lowered through the Internet, teens also are more apt to experiment sexually offline.  

All of this to say, just because your son or daughter tells you they are “just friends” with someone doesn’t mean they aren’t engaging in some type of sexual relationship with them. I just think it’s a safe practice to limit your son or daughter’s one-on-one time with the opposite sex.   You may tell me that you “trust” your child, but I would recommend that you “trust but verify” and understand that relationships and friendships have changed.  Talk to the parents of your daughter’s friends and try to stay “in the know” with that’s going on.  Set rules and be clear with your kids about sex and sexual standards.  For help, check out our resource “The Talk”.