Dating, especially during the teenage years, is thought to be an important way for young people to build self-identity, develop social skills, learn about other people, and grow emotionally.
et new research from the University of Georgia has found that not dating can be an equally beneficial choice for teens. And in some ways, these teens fared even better.
The study, published online in The Journal of School Health, found that adolescents who were not in romantic relationships during middle and high school had good social skills and low depression, and fared better or equal to peers who dated.
“The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age or middle adolescence,” said Brooke Douglas, a doctoral student in health promotion at UGA’s College of Public Health and the study’s lead author.
“This high frequency has led some researchers to suggest that dating during the teenage years is a normative behavior. That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development.”
If dating was considered normal and essential for a teen’s individual development and well-being, Douglas began to wonder what this suggested about adolescents who chose not to date.
“Does this mean that teens that don’t date are maladjusted in some way? That they are social misfits? Few studies had examined the characteristics of youth who do not date during the teenage years, and we decided we wanted to learn more,” she said.
To do this, Douglas and study co-author Pamela Orpinas examined whether 10th-grade students who reported no or very infrequent dating over a seven-year period differed on emotional and social skills from their more frequently dating peers.
They analyzed data collected during a 2013 study led by Orpinas, which followed a cohort of adolescents from Northeast Georgia from sixth through 12th grade. Each spring, students indicated whether they had dated, and reported on a number of social and emotional factors, including positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school, symptoms of depression, and suicidal thoughts. Their teachers completed questionnaires rating each student’s behavior in areas that included social skills, leadership skills, and levels of depression.
Non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
Students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. Teachers’ scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that reported no dating. Additionally, the proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lower within this group as well.
“In summary, we found that non-dating students are doing well and are simply following a different and healthy developmental trajectory than their dating peers,” said Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behavior.
“While the study refutes the notion of non-daters as social misfits, it also calls for health promotion interventions at schools and elsewhere to include non-dating as an option for normal, healthy development,” said Douglas.
“As public health professionals, we can do a better job of affirming that adolescents do have the individual freedom to choose whether they want to date or not, and that either option is acceptable and healthy,” she said.
5 Truths About Teens and Dating
While the premise of teen dating is the same as it’s always been, the way teens date has changed a bit from just a few decades ago. Technology has changed teen dating and many parents aren’t sure how to establish rules that keep kids safe. Here are five things every parent should know about the teenage dating scene:
1. It Is Normal for Teens to Want to Date
While some teens tend to be interested in dating earlier than others, romantic interests are normal during adolescence. Girls are more vocal about the dating interest and tend to be interested in a greater degree at a younger age, but boys are paying attention also.
There is no way around it; your teenager is likely going to be interested in dating. When he or she does, you’ll have to step up to the plate with some parenting skills and hold some potentially awkward conversations.
2. Teens Lack Relationship Skills
Your teen may have some unrealistic ideas about dating based on what she’s seen in the movies or read in books.
Real-life dating doesn’t mimic a Hallmark movie. Instead, first dates may be awkward or they may not end up in romance.
Today’s teens spend a lot of time texting and posting to potential love interests on social media. For some, that can make dating easier because they may get to know one another better online first. For those teens who tend to be shy, meeting in person can be much more difficult.
3. Teens Whose Parents Talk to Them Are Better Prepared
It’s important to talk to your teen about a variety of topics, like your personal values. Be open with your teen about everything from treating someone else with respect to your values about sexual activity.
Talk about the basics too, like how to behave when meeting a date’s parents or how to show respect while you’re on a date. Make sure your teen knows to show respect by not texting friends throughout the date and talk about what to do if a date behaves disrespectfully.
4. Your Teen Needs a Little Privacy
Your parenting values, your teen’s maturity level, and the specific situation will help you decide how much chaperoning your teen needs. Having an eyes-on policy might be necessary and healthy in some circumstances.
But make sure you offer your teen at least a little bit of privacy. Don’t listen in on every phone call and don’t read every social media message. Of course, those rules don’t necessarily apply if your teen is involved in an unhealthy relationship.
5. Your Teen Will Need Ongoing Guidance
While it’s not healthy to get wrapped up in your teen’s dating life, there will be times when you may have to intervene. If you overhear your teen saying mean comments or using manipulative tactics, speak up. Similarly, if your teen is on the receiving end of unhealthy behavior, it’s important to help out.
There’s a small window of time between when your teen begins dating and when she’s going to be entering the adult world. So you’ll need to provide guidance that can help her be successful in her future relationships. Whether she experiences some serious heartbreak, or she’s a heart breaker, adolescence is when teens learn about romance.
Establish Safety Rules for Your Teen
As a parent, your job is to keep your child safe and to help him learn the skills he needs to enter into healthy relationships.
As your teen matures, he should require fewer dating rules. But your rules should be based on his behavior, not necessarily his age.
If he isn’t honest about his activities or he doesn’t keep his curfew, he’s showing you that he lacks the maturity to have more freedom (as long as your rules are reasonable).
Tweens and younger teens will need more rules as they likely aren’t able to handle the responsibilities of a romantic relationship. Here are some general safety rules you might want to establish for your child:
- Get to know anyone your teen wants to date. If your teen’s date pulls up and honks the horn from the driveway instead of coming in to meet you, make it clear that your teen isn’t going on a date. You can always start by meeting their date at your home a few times for dinner before allowing your teen to go out on a date alone.
- Make dating without a chaperone a privilege. For younger teens, inviting a romantic interest to the house may be the extent of dating that is necessary. Or you can drive your teen and their date to the movies or a public place. Older teens are likely to want to go out on dates on the town without a chauffeur. Make that a privilege that can be earned as long as your teen exhibits trustworthy behavior.
- Create clear guidelines about online romance. Many teens talk to individuals online and establish a false sense of intimacy. Consequently, they’re more likely to meet people they’ve chatted with for a date because they don’t view them as strangers. Create clear rules about online dating and stay up to date on any apps your teen might be tempted to use, like Tinder.
- Know your teen’s itinerary. Make sure you have a clear itinerary for your teen’s date. Insist your teen contact you if the plan changes.
- Establish a clear curfew. Make it clear you need to know the details of who your teen will be with, where they will be going, and who will be there. Establish a clear curfew as well. It’s important to know what your teen is up to when going out on dates.
- Set age limits. In some states, teens can date anyone they want once they reach 16, but in other states, they don’t have that choice until they turn 18. But, legal issues aside, set some rules about the dating age range. There’s usually a big difference in maturity level between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old.
- Know who is at home at the other person’s house. If your teen is going to a date’s home, find out who will be home. Have a conversation with the date’s parents to talk about their rules.
- Discuss technology dangers. Sometimes, teens are tempted to comply with a date’s request to send nude photos. Unfortunately, these photos can become public very quickly and unsuspecting teens can have their reputations ruined quickly. Establish clear cellphone rules that will help your teen make good decisions.
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