of Adolescent Romantic Relationships
Indian Health Service
J. Richard Udry
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Romantic relationships are a central concern not only to adolescents, but to researchers studying adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. After all, romantic relationships serve several important functions for youth. They are critical to relatedness and autonomy—developmental processes that are linked to secure attachment (Erikson, 1968; Hazan & Shaver, 1987). They also provide contexts for dating and sexual behavior (Collins & Sroufe, 1999; Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz, 1995), and facilitate mate sorting and selection (McDaniel, 1969), especially for youth who marry or cohabit early in the life course. The theoretical relevance of adolescent romantic relationships for explanations of pair bonding (i.e., attachment in intimate relationships) and family formation (e.g., childbearing, cohabitation, and marriage) is considerable.
Most of what we know about romantic relationships in adolescence is based on studies utilizing small samples from single schools or geographic regions. These studies have focused primarily on dating. Because many of these studies consider the impact of dating on psychological outcomes (e.g., psychosocial skill development, self-esteem, and identity) and behavioral outcomes (e.g., academic performance, delinquency, and eating disorders), they have generated meager and possibly biased descriptive information on romantic relationship behavior among adolescents (e.g., Cauffman & Steinberg, 1996; Joyner & Udry, 2000; McDonald & McKenney, 1994; Samet & Kelly, 1987; Simmons, Blyth, Van Cleave, & Bush, 1979; Smolak, Levine, & Gralen, 1993). Studies that have tangentially addressed adolescent romantic behavior using nationally