The peer group provides checks and balances, along with feedback about what’s OK and what’s not, so kids are less likely to get out of their depth — especially in terms of conflict, expectations for behaviour and sex.
With traditional one-to-one relationships, Connolly says, things tend to escalate much more quickly, simply because the couple is spending a lot of time alone.
But, she adds reassuringly, many of these youthful relationships, sustained largely by rumour and reputation, will have dissolved within days or weeks.
“I think that’s just ridiculous,” says Charles, who doesn’t feel ready for that kind of intimacy with girls.
“This ‘liquid courage,’ which is far more common than other drugs, makes kids get over their natural modesty and social awkwardness,” says Kim Martyn, a long-time sexual health educator in Toronto.
Parents must acknowledge this reality and address safety issues around the risks of drinking, says Martyn, who’s also the mother of two young-adult daughters.
A couple may never see or speak to each other outside of school, although they may well enjoy the new status accorded them by their peers.
These types of short-lived pairings — relationships in name only — jump in numbers by grades six and seven, when alcohol increasingly becomes part of many parties.
“So from a parenting perspective,” says Connolly, who is also the director of the La Marsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution, “you want to know who your kids are friends with.” Kids like the security of having their friends around.