Tweens are practically bursting with feelings
of possibility and new-found joy when they discover that "special
someone." Then again, when you're fresh out of puberty, love is awkward
and can be heartbreaking.
New research from the University of
Georgia (UGA) paints a grim picture of middle school daters—they are four
times more likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to drink and
smoke marijuana, and tend have worse teacher-reported study habits.
After all, Juliet was only 13 when she started dating Romeo, and we all know how that turned out.
Studying the Habits of Middle School Daters
Orpinas, lead study author and head of the Department of Health
Promotion and Behavior at UGA, says that while romantic relationships may
seem like the hallmark of adolescence, they don’t always yield the best
Orpinas monitored 624 students as they moved from sixth
grade to twelfth grade in six different school districts across Georgia.
Every year, the students completed a questionnaire about their personal
lives while their teachers evaluated each student’s academic
Teachers rated the students' study skills based on a
variety of factors, including doing extra credit work, coming to class
organized, completing homework, and doing assigned reading.
38 percent of the students who dated in middle school reported dating
someone at almost all times during the seven-year study period.
Twenty-two percent of teens in the study began dating someone in the
“At all points in time, teachers rated the students
who reported the lowest frequency of dating as having the best study
skills and the students with the highest dating as having the worst
study skills,” according to the article, published last week in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
The Perils of Dating Young
is when children first begin to push boundaries on the way to
adulthood. While they may think they know what’s best for them, they
sometimes lack the foresight to see the consequences of their actions.
participants who didn’t date had better overall academic performance,
while those who dated earlier in middle school were twice as likely to
begin using alcohol and drugs in high school, the researchers said.
likely explanation for the worse educational performance of early
daters is that these adolescents start dating early as part of an
overall pattern of high-risk behaviors,” Orpinas said in a press
Other amplifying factors include the emotional difficulties teens often face in middle and high school: bullying, depression, and anxiety. All of these have been linked to higher rates of smoking, drinking, and drug use.
these factors together—plus the fluctuating hormones that come with
tweendom—and a relationship can be tough to handle without the right
coping strategies. A nasty breakup could send a teen looking for ways to
alleviate the stress.
a classmate may have the same emotional complications as dating a
co-worker,” Orpinas said. “When the couple splits, they have to continue
to see each other in class and perhaps witness the ex-partner dating
someone else. It is reasonable to think this scenario could be linked to
depression and divert attention from studying.”
Her findings were enough for Orpinas to warn that, “dating should not be considered a rite of passage in middle school.”
Georgia researchers say more study is required to tease out the
characteristics of healthy young dating verses problem behavior. And
that’s where parents step in.
How Parents Can Help
are a teen’s role primary model for how relationships work. Since many
teens are ill-prepared to deal with the realities of dating, parents can
model good behavior for them.
More importantly, parents should
talk to their children about dating, along with the birds and the bees.
This includes helping their children form realistic expectations for
relationships and assuring them that not being in a relationship isn’t
the end of the world.
After all, there's plenty of time (and opportunity) to date in college.