Parent Buzz Newsletter - Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts

The Parent Buzz

An e-newsletter for parents from Let's Be Honest                                 June 2011   Issue 26

In This Issue
"Hooking Up" or "Dating" - What's the difference and how do we talk to our youth about this topic?
Is "hooking up" different from "dating"?
What do students want to know about "dating"?
What do you recommend to parents about talking to their kids about "dating" or "hooking up?"
Some Helpful Resources
Quick Links

"Hooking Up" or "Dating"

What's the difference and

how do we talk to our youth

about this topic?


Terminology that defines sex and sexuality and behaviors change as quickly as a new website is added to the internet or a popular television series coins a hit phrase.  Parents often are concerned that they don't understand the nuances of references their adolescents are using.  In our workshops, we get questions from parents about the term "hooking up."  Parents want to know what it means and want to understand its social significance. 


A word search on the internet brings up an onslaught of definitions including: casual dating; hang out; go steady; make out; or, a sexual interaction between two partners, including anything from kissing to intercourse.  This kind of a word search may not serve to give parents the answers and understanding they are seeking.  It seems that the term "hooking up" may deliberately be undefined by this generation of youth, perhaps to help protect them from scrutiny.  When someone tells a friend that they "hooked up" with someone else, they're not giving them much information.  And, as parents, we can be left in the dark as well.


For more insight into the terms "hooking up" and "dating," we turned to Planned Parenthood educators who work with middle school and high school youth teaching Get Real:  Comprehensive Sex Education that Works, our school-based, medically-accurate, age-appropriate sex education curriculum.  Its goals are to delay the onset of sexual intercourse, and to encourage correct and consistent use of protection when students become sexually active in the future. Get Real is built on a Social Emotional Learning approach that emphasizes relationship skills as the key to making healthy decisions about sex.

Is "hooking up" different from "dating"?


Most of our middle school students use the term "dating" which means the same thing as "going out." But when two people are "dating" or "going out" they might not actually be going anywhere. It just means that they've made a commitment to each other, sometimes publically, to be "together" and usually to be exclusively "dating" each other.  For some of them, they may hold hands, kiss, etc. or they may try to see each other outside of school. It could also simply be a title or status that they can share with each other.


It seems that students use the term "hooking up" or "hanging out" to mean doing something (usually kissing or making out) with a person that they are not in a "dating" relationship with.  Usually it's not an exclusive or a committed relationship. However, some "dating" couples start their relationships by "hooking up."  For some older students, "hooking up" can mean having sex.

What do students want to know about "dating"?


Students often ask with concerns about what they should do if they want to date someone, but their parents say they are too young. Students want to know details about the boundaries that are being set. They want to know if they're allowed to hold hands or kiss or go to the movies with a boyfriend or girlfriend. We refer our students back to their parents/caring adults for values around this topic and tell them that they should have a longer conversation with their parents about what it means to date.  Together, families need to decide if dating means young people can't be alone together or go on one-on-one dates. Some parents might feel more comfortable if they know that dates will be supervised by adults, if the person is included in family activities or that kids are only going out in groups.

What do you recommend to parents about talking to their kids about "dating" or "hooking up"?


Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children and research indicates that teens say parents most influence their decisions about sex, love and relationships.  Your adolescent might be "hooking up" or "dating" or simply wants to understand what family rules will eventually apply to them. We recommend that families talk about this topic and set guidelines and boundaries around what is and isn't appropriate behavior at different ages.  If you hear your child talking to a friend about a term you don't understand, ask them to help you understand it.  Tell kids candidly and confidently what you think and why you take these positions.  Inform them of the risks of sexual behaviors.  Ask them what they think about dating versus hooking up and what they know about this topic so you can correct misperceptions.  In addition, to help reduce risk in relationships, we recommend that parents take a strong stand against their adolescents dating others who are significantly older or younger than they are.


Conversations can include facts as well as feelings and values about the importance of communication, trust, respect and safety in relationships.   A parent might ask, "You're hanging out a lot with (friend's name) these days.  What qualities do you admire most in this person?" or "Do many kids in your class have girlfriends and boyfriends?  What does that mean?  Do you think kids are starting to get physical with each other?  How old do you think you should be to start dating?"


Remember, it our right and responsibility as a parent to educate our children about sexual health.  It's never too early or too late to begin the conversations.  And, it's not a one-time talk; it's an eighteen year conversation, so let's start now!


Visit our website for helpful tips, information about workshops, and much more. Don't miss an opportunity to be the primary sexuality educator for your children. 

Need help? Call our Parent Education Team at (617) 616-1658.




Parent Education



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