While dating is a common phenomenon in teens today and considered important to build self-identity and social skills, not dating someone can be equally beneficial for them, suggested a new study.
“The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age or middle adolescence,” said lead author Brooke Douglas, a doctoral student in health promotion at University of Georgia’s College of Public Health
“This high frequency has led some researchers to suggest that dating during the teenage years is normative behaviour. That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development,” added Douglas.
The findings published in the Journal of School Health have put forth that adolescents who were not in romantic relationships during middle and high school had good social skills and low depression, and fared better or equal to peers who dated.
“Does this mean that teens that don’t date are maladjusted in some way? That they are social misfits? Few studies had examined the characteristics of youth who do not date during the teenage years, and we decided we wanted to learn more,” Douglas said.
To understand this, researchers examined whether 10th-grade students who reported no or very infrequent dating over a seven-year period differed on emotional and social skills from their more frequently dating peers.
They analyzed data collected during a 2013 study, which followed a cohort of adolescents from Northeast Georgia from sixth through 12th grade.
Each spring, students indicated whether they had dated, and reported on a number of social and emotional factors, including positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school, symptoms of depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Their teachers completed questionnaires rating each student’s behaviour in areas that included social skills, leadership skills and levels of depression.
Non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
Students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. The proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lowers within this group as well.
“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 co-author Pamela Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behaviour.