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"Biologically, it's what their bodies are telling them to do—they're in the early stages of puberty.And socially, it's when they learn to negotiate relationships." But there's some good news for mom and dad: Tweens still want to talk to their parents.

"Kids want someone to hear them out and help them make sense of what they're experiencing—not to tell them it'll be over by tomorrow." For many adults who grew up with heat doodles and do-you-like-me-check-yes-or-no notes in middle school, watching their kids hook up and break up via Facebook, Twitter and text feels not only alien but scary, because it's often unsupervised.

Try to institute ground rules about "romantic" interaction early on, even before there's any curiosity.

"And they should be aware of the consequences," says Harding, "if they don't follow the established family rules." First, let your kids know you'll be checking their social media pages and browser history from time to time.

It's true that much of tween romance seems to unfold over chat, says Jessica Gottlieb of Los Angeles, whose 14-year-old daughter appears to have been bitten by the love bug overnight.

My daughter was 11 when she went to her first school dance.

I put on a brave face as she got out of the car in her polka-dot dress (with a denim jacket for her signature swagger). But what I really wanted to say as she disappeared into the crowd of sixth-grade bravado was, "Wait—come back!

D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Parents can unintentionally oversexualize the situation while undercutting healthy feelings.

These key tips will keep everyone on the same page.

Many parents assume their tween has no interest in the opposite sex because he or she hasn't said anything about it.

"Of course, the message may be different for each family based on their culture and dynamic," says Fran Harding, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services center, which tracks teen behavior.

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