Although sometimes viewed as trivial and overly dramatic, the dating experiences and romantic relationships of adolescents can greatly influence the success of their future relationships. Healthy romantic relationships during adolescence are related to committed, satisfying relationships in adulthood. This relationship is not surprising considering adolescents describe dating and spending time with romantic partners as a central focus in their lives.
Due to the association between early dating experiences in adolescence, and later experiences in adult relationships, the following series of articles will focus on what to expect as an adolescent enters the dating arena. Part 1 of this series describes dating patterns and the development of romantic interest from early to late adolescence.
Early Adolescence (10-13 years)
In the early part of adolescence, youth begin to develop romantic interest in their peers. Youth at times become preoccupied thinking and fantasizing about crushes. Although interest in others as romantic partners is beginning to develop, the majority of early adolescents do not participate in formal dating. Instead, youth may begin to interact with potential dating partners through group dates. In group dates, mixed gender groups will attend concerts, movies, or other events together. This platform allows youth to explore emerging romantic feelings in a low-pressure environment.
Middle Adolescence (14-17 years)
During middle adolescence, youth begin to date more formally, and ‘couple up.’ Youth in this stage prefer to interact one-on-one rather than in a large, mixed gender group. Reasons for dating in middle adolescence may be fairly superficial, such as for fun/recreation or social status among their peers. However, long-term, committed relationships among middle adolescents can begin to serve the functions of intimacy, companionship, and social support.
Late Adolescence (18+ years)
By the time youth reach their senior year in high school, 70% report engaging in at least one romantic relationship. It is not uncommon for both middle and late adolescents to report spending more time with romantic partners than with family or other friends. Relationships in late adolescence become more committed and intimate, and are more likely to involve sexual activity than the relationships of early and middle adolescents. Late adolescents also become concerned with the quality of the relationship and the amount of emotional support they receive from their partner.
Regardless of whether your adolescent has an official boyfriend or girlfriend, he/she is aware of the dating practices and expectations of his/her peers. Understanding the normal patterns of dating among adolescents may help in initiating conversations about your adolescent’s emerging romantic interests. Look for the next installment of this series which will focus on the benefits and risks associated with adolescent dating.
- Carver, K., & Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (2003). National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relationships and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 291-329). New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Sorensen, S. (2007, July). Adolescent romantic relationships. Research FACTS and Findings [Fact Sheet]. ACT for Youth Center of Excellence. Retrieved from: http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf