Teenagers are often encouraged to start dating in their teens in order to meet new people and learn more about themselves and others.
Studies have shown that for one in three teenagers their first love is an introduction to physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Now, scientists have discovered that there are other reasons why teens shouldn't date – they tend to be less depressed than their peers and have better social skills.
No or very infrequent dating
The study, published in The Journal of School Health, found that teenagers who were not in romantic relationships during middle and high school had better social skills and low depression.
Brooke Douglas, a doctoral student in health promotion at UGA's College of Public Health and the study's lead author worked with co-author Pamela Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behaviour, to examine whether grade 10 students who reported no or very infrequent dating over a seven-year period differed on emotional and social skills from their peers who dated more frequently.
They analysed data collected from a 2013 study which was led by Orpinas, which followed adolescents from Northeast Georgia from grade 6 through to grade 12. Every spring, the students indicated whether they had dated, and reported on a number of social and emotional factors which included:
- Positive relationships with friends
- Positive relationships at home
- Relationships at school
- Symptoms of depression
- Suicidal thoughts
Their teachers were required to complete a questionnaire where they rated each student's behaviour in areas which comprised of social skills, leadership skills and levels of depression. Students who did not date had similar or better interpersonal skills than their peers who dated frequently.
Less likely to be depressed
Although the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school, did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, the teachers still rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
Teenagers who did not date were also less likely to be depressed. The teachers' scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that did not date. The students who self-reported being hopeless or sad were significantly lower in this group too.
"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," said Orpinas.
"While the study refutes the notion of non-daters as social misfits, it also calls for health promotion and interventions at schools and elsewhere to include non-dating as an option for normal, healthy development," said Douglas.
Douglas continued to say that as public health professionals, they can do a better job of affirming that adolescents do have the individual freedom to choose whether or not they want to date, and either option is acceptable and healthy.
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