Teenagers and Dating

Socializing by teenagers as they move through adolescence is one of the key components to "growing up." Early adolescents usually remain in same-sex groups, with very little social contact with the opposite sex. By the time they reach their mid-teens, the groupings tend to change, often forming a loose confederation of boys and girls.

In early and mid-adolescence, teenagers often involve themselves in a series of short-term relationships, which may be labeled as "crushes," "being smitten," or even "falling in love." However, they are usually characterized by high emotional intensity and often last a short period of time. These brief relationships provide the necessary experience for future, more stable relationships in future life.

For many teenagers, the dating process represents a special time in their life. According to research, 90 percent of all teenagers have a date while they are in high school. Those teenagers who are not interested in formal dating usually feel happy to hang out with and talk to members of the opposite sex. Their priorities are usually in other areas such as academics, sports, or after-school jobs, with dating considered to be something they do not have time for during this phase of their lives.

Parents of the "non-daters," could become quite anxious as they feel that there is something wrong with the teenager who does not date. Parents sometimes think that the lack of dating is an indicator of their child's sexual orientation or emotional maturity. This causes many teenagers to feel pressure from their parents to date when they are not interested in or ready to do so.

Some adolescents start dating very early. Early dating could be a sign of precocious development or a way to handle excessive social and sexual anxiety. Mid-teens who actively date often feel more mature and grown up, and see dating as a way to assert their independence. For some, it is a means of establishing their status among their peers. Dating provides the adolescents with physical proximity and often physical contact with members of the opposite sex.

Dating can function as a source of psychological support for teens who are feeling lonely, for teenagers who are in authority conflicts or are just feeling bored. Youngsters can often comfort each other's psychological pain by being together in a dating relationship. Dating can also serve as a protection source for teenagers who have strict family values that differ from those held by their peers. These youngsters tend to hang on to each other or band together to protect each other from the different and sometimes negative values of some peers.

One of the most important things that adolescents find out about themselves in the process of dating is that they are lovable, that someone else besides the members of their family can choose them in an intense emotional way. During dating, they discover that they have certain desirable traits, which may not have been realized by youngsters before. This process plays a major role in a teenager's life, especially in providing precise information about one's own masculinity or femininity.

Dating could also be seen as an opportunity for teenagers to test their own capacity to love and be loved, or to deal with dilemmas such as whether or not to be sexually active. Adolescents who engage in steady dating relationships with the same partner are forced to come to terms with how they are going to handle the sexual component of their relationship.

The quality of the dating experience and the predictive value of the first romantic relationship may contribute to youth's conceptualization of a relationship. Teenagers who do not have emotional difficulties will be able to further boost their successful movement from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood.

According to research into sexual orientation by gay rights agency Lambda, homosexual male teenagers report becoming aware of a distinct feeling of being "different" between the ages of five and seven. However, they do not associate this with the issue of sexuality until they reach 13. Researchers also found that 9 percent of high school students identified with being "gay, lesbian and bisexual" or questioned their sexuality as teenagers. Up to 80 percent of gay and lesbian teenagers said they felt socially isolated.

Teenagers and Dating: Selected full-text books and articles

Helping Teenagers into Adulthood: A Guide for the Next Generation By George R. Holmes Praeger, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Adolescent Love: Discovering Sexuality and Dating"
Where `Angels' and `Wusses' Fear to Tread: Sexual Coercion in Adolescent Dating Relationships By Hird, Myra J.; Jackson, Sue Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 1, May 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Women and Men as Friends: Relationships across the Life Span in the 21st Century By Michael Monsour Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Cross-Sex Friendships in Adolescence (12 to 17 Years of Age)"
A Lifetime of Communication: Transformation through Relational Dialogues By Julie Yingling Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Adolescence: Flowers of Maturation, Seeds of Dialectics"
Interracial Dating Attitudes among College Students By Knox, David; Zusman, Marty E.; Buffington, Carmen; Hemphill, Gloria College Student Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2000
The Handbook of Sexuality in Close Relationships By John H. Harvey; Amy Wenzel; Susan Sprecher Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Overview of Sexual Practices and Attitudes within Relational Contexts"
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