Dating is an important rite of passage during adolescence. By age 17, 70% of teens report participating in a romantic relationship in the past 18 months (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003). Thus, dating is a common experience among adolescents. Dating is associated with both benefits and potential risks, and understanding these risks and benefits can assist parents in supporting their teen’s development.
Identity Development: Throughout adolescence, youth are attempting to understand their own personality, values, and beliefs. Dating a significant partner can help youth establish a stronger sense of who they are, and who they want to become.
Conflict Resolution: Adolescents will likely encounter disagreements with their romantic partner. Early experiences with conflict can help youth develop empathy along with negotiation and communication skills for use in adult relationships.
Intimacy: Adolescents develop intimacy by becoming closer to a significant other. While adolescents are gradually distancing themselves from parents, they are developing romantic intimacy with partners which is an essential component of adult relationships.
Confidence: Finding and maintaining a romantic partner can raise a youth’s self-esteem. Participating in a practice that is common among their peers can aid youth in feeling like a part of the social group.
Preoccupation: New relationships are exciting for adolescents. Their focus on this new partner can lead to neglecting other relationships or responsibilities. For example, youth may ignore homework or extra-curricular commitments in favor or spending time with their partner.
Risk Behavior: Teens who date are more likely to engage in sexual activity. If youth have not received proper sex education (see Part 3 of this series), they may be more likely to engage in unsafe sexual practices. A new romantic partner may also introduce adolescents to a new peer group. Peers who engage in risk behaviors such as substance use or delinquency are influential in a teen’s decision to participate in unsafe activities.
Dating Violence: Youth in relationships may be at risk for experiencing physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. Dating violence among teens is especially concerning given the associated long-term effects. For example, youth who were victims of physical abuse in adolescent relationships were more likely to experience abuse in their adult relationships.
Sadness/Depressive Symptoms: Youth may have limited coping skills when dealing with a break-up or conflict in a relationship. As a result, they may have difficulty understanding the reasons for the conflict or ending of the relationship. It is not uncommon for relationship issues to lead to depressive symptoms.
How can parents promote benefits while minimizing risks? One of the most influential factors is the amount of parental monitoring. Showing an interest in the adolescent’s relationship and maintaining an expectation that adolescents must inform the parent of his or her activities will aid in the development of healthy adolescent relationships.
- 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
For more information, contact Amber Letcher at South Dakota State University at 605-688-4941.