Wait before You Date
Butterworth, Trevor, Newsweek
Byline: Trevor Butterworth
Is middle school too early for kids to couple up?
Teen romance may have been dissected a million ways by popular culture, but that dubious analysis pales in comparison to a recent study that followed the arc of teen dating from grades 6 to 12. "We see four trajectories," says Pamela Orpinas, a professor of behavioral research at the University of Georgia and the lead author of the study, which included 600 students. "Some kids never or hardly ever dated; some kids did not date during middle school and started dating during high school. Others dated all the time--or at least that's what they reported. And others reported dating all the time in sixth grade, and then decreased, and then increased again."
And the significance of these trajectories? Those who dated the most were shooting toward disaster: they were four times more likely to drop out of high school and reported twice as much substance abuse as those who were dating less. "Among adults or older adolescents or young adults, dating is actually a really good thing," explains Orpinas, "because you're more stable, happier, and less likely to do drugs." But the earlier you start, the more likely the opposite results.
"Risk-taking behaviors in adolescents cluster," says Lynn Ponton, professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, and the author of The Sex Lives of Teenagers: Revealing the Secret World of Adolescent Boys and Girls. And early-onset dating is an important clue as to whether your child might be a high-risk taker, particularly if it is accompanied by poor grade performance. …