Valentine's Day is taking on a new level of interest in our house this year. Before middle school, Ian was only interested in signing a card for me purchased by my husband, in attaching the perfect piece of candy to cool valentine cards for his classmates, and in all the candy he might receive. We're in middle school now and it's a whole new world. The middle-school world is one in which sixth-grade boys and girls are dating.

Valentine's Day is taking on a new level of interest in our house this year. Before middle school, Ian was only interested in signing a card for me purchased by my husband, in attaching the perfect piece of candy to cool valentine cards for his classmates, and in all the candy he might receive. We're in middle school now and it's a whole new world. The middle-school world is one in which sixth-grade boys and girls are dating.

Once the shock of this news wore off, I got down to the business of making sure my sixth-grader understood that dating is not for sixth-graders. Then I realized my "old-school" roots were showing, so I called "The Chief" - Dr. Terrill Bravender, who is Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital (if you're also old-school, think of Bravender as the "Shell Answer Man"; and if you're new-school, he's the "Google" of all things adolescent).

Bravender was not surprised by my question about middle-school dating: "It seems like when I ask my patients or my children or my children's friends about dating, they look at me as if I just spoke in Olde English."

Bravender said the real story here is that our children are dating, hanging out or socializing in a group format.

"Almost no pre-teens or teens go on traditional dates," he said. To my great relief, he explained that could mean a few kids going to the movies together or bowling. Bravender said when these group activities are supervised by a responsible adult, there are few, if any, problems: "I think it's an unusual situation - one-on-one dating - (and) parents need to make judgments on what's acceptable and what's not."

Ian's parents (my husband and I) have made a judgment on this issue. We are in agreement with what Bravender calls the "bigger issue" - the development of boundaries and communication skills. He says parents need to limit cell-phone use, making it a rule, for example, that children don't sleep in the same room as their cell phones. In addition, experts recommend that parents establish open communication on texting and texts, because of the risk of harassment via texting.

And there is room for the old school in this new-school era of group dating. Adolescent specialists, including Bravender, say that traditional, one-on-one dating is a sort of practice for developing mature adult relationships. If you don't have practice, it can be difficult to develop these kinds of relationships at the appropriate time. The silver lining for middle-school parents is that we can monitor relationships to make sure they're developmentally appropriate. As parents we should see group activities as a way to teach the value of true interaction to our tweens.

I'm quite pleased to have this new understanding but maintain my old stance that there's no need to rush into anything serious other than schoolwork until Ian is, say, 35?

-Tracy Townsend is a news reporter and anchor with 10TV News HD.