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3/1/15blog post

why we should let teens date

When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing an article about the decrease in dating among high school students, his response surprised me. “It’s nice to hear some good news for a change. I wouldn’t mind if my daughter didn’t start dating until she finishes college.”

My friend is wrong. Abstaining from dating in high school isn’t really healthy for most kids.

The trends are pretty dramatic. Thirty-six percent of kids have never dated in high school, a significant change from 20 years ago when only 14 percent students never dated. Similar trends are evident for younger teens as well.

During the time period from 1990 to 2013, the percent of high school seniors who dated frequently decreased from 34 percent to 17 percent.

I don’t know why teens have stopped dating. Perhaps electronic connections have replaced live interactions. Digital exchanges may feel easier and safer for kids. However, can the satisfaction from texting or Skype replace the feelings of being in the presence of someone you really like? Maybe kids just don’t want to take the risk.

Other teens may be more focused on preparing for college, and view dating as a distraction from their career goals. Perhaps we’ve made our kids overly sensitive to the risks of dating, including unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and dating violence. In one recent survey, 10 percent of our teens reported physical or sexual victimization by their dating partner.

The critical question is whether dating is healthy for teens.

There is ample research to indicate that dating is associated with bad outcomes for some of our teens—lower grades in school, increased drug and alcohol use, and increased levels of depression.

Other research supports many positive effects from dating—better school performance, increased confidence, and a positive self-concept.

Dating among teens can be either good or bad. It’s the quality of these teen relationships that determine the impact of the dating experience. The effects can be extremely positive when teens develop relationships with peers based upon trust, communication, compromise, and caring.

While you shouldn’t pressure your teen into dating, don’t discourage that activity for older teens. They will do stupid things, get rejected, get involved in hurtful drama, and learn lots of important things along the way about relationships.

Here’s why my friend is wrong about wanting his daughter to delay dating. Kids need our guidance in figuring out how to learn these skills. Our support and guidance can be critical during this time.

Isn’t it better for kids to date while we’re around to help them learn the most important lessons they’ll ever learn about life and love?