So you thought dating was a few years away? Guess again, Mom.
Suddenly the boy who wouldn't be caught dead saying hi to anyone of the female persuasion is chatting up the girls at the school bus stop, or hanging out in a coed pack at the little league field. Anywhere between fourth and sixth grades, the opposite sex goes from cootie-ridden to pretty cool. But don't panic—most tweens don't yet have the nerve for one-on-one interaction, let alone relationships. There's safety in numbers, so flirting will pretty much take place in group settings for now, says Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., clinical child psychologist and author of Teenage as a Second Language.
Don't underestimate the role of the smartphone either. With the ability to text, “a group of girls will go to the movies and just ‘happen’ to meet up with a group of boys from the same school,” says Clair Mellenthin, a Salt Lake City child and family therapist. And posting “Happy Birthday” on Facebook can be a way of hinting “I like you.” Next up: text dating, in which entire relationships begin, carry on, and break up without said couple ever engaging in an actual conversation. Think of it as high-tech puppy love—maybe not ideal for building intimacy skills, but at least you don't have to worry about them making out yet.