Dating doesn’t have to be a “normal” part of growing up, after all
Dating can be an exciting part of adolescence. There’s that initial crush, holding hands, the first kiss, all those goosebumps when you hear their name, hours spent talking on the phone about nothing, slow dancing to love songs — the list goes on and on. It’s easy to assume that teens who are dating are so much happier and better off in general than those who aren’t. In fact, teens who don’t date might be considered unusual compared to their dating peers. However, according to a new study published in the Journal of School Health, teens who choose not to date are actually just fine — and may even be better off than those who do.
“The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age, or middle adolescence. This high frequency has led some researchers to suggest that dating during teenage years is a normative behavior. That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development,” Brooke Douglas, a doctoral student in health promotion at UGA’s College of Public Health and the study’s lead author, explained about the motivation behind the study.
“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 added.
So she and study co-author Pamela Orpinas, another professor of health promotion and behavior at the University of Georgia, examined a group of 10th grade students over a period of seven years. They found that those who were not in romantic relationships had good social skills and low depression and overall fared equal — and often better — compared to their peers who were dating, refuting “the notion of non-daters as social misfits.”
“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,” explained Orpinas.
The study’s authors hope their findings will encourage “health promotion interventions at schools and elsewhere to include non-dating as an option for normal, healthy development,” said Douglas.
So how should we use this information as parents? Basically, relax a little. Whether your teen decides to date or remain single until they are in college, it should be their freedom to do so and there is nothing to worry about. Some parents might pressure their children to do what is considered socially “normal” and this study just suggests that there really is no normal after all. Instead, encourage them to do whatever makes them happy. If that involves a boyfriend or girlfriend, so be it. Or, if they choose to focus on themselves and their friendships, that is great as well. As mental health issues in teens have increased over the past decade, the most important thing is making sure that whatever they choose, that they are in a good place.