Teens and Dating
Romantic Feelings of Teens: A Natural Process
Teens face strong pressures to date, as well as get involved in a romantic relationship1. A romantic relationship is one that invloves feelings of attraction--physical and friendship. In fact, over half of teens in the United States report dating regularly (casual dates with one or more partners at different times) whereas a third claim to have a steady dating (exclusive) partner2. Young teens usually hang out with peers who are the same gender as they are. As they reach the mid-teen years (age 14-15 years), they start having relationships with peers of the opposite sex3. Such relationships are likely to be friendships and/or physical attractions. Although most romantic relationships among 12- to 14-year-olds last less than 5 months, by age 16 relationships last an average of 2 years4. In the early teen years dating is more superficial--for fun and recreation, status among peers, and exploring attractiveness/sexuality. In the older teen years youth are looking for intimacy, companionship, affection, and social support.
Desiring a romantic partner is a natural, expected part of adolescence. However, involvement in a serious or exclusive romantic relationship in the preteen/early teen years can create problems. True romantic relationships are about intimacy, or communicating detailed, personal information verbally, and physical contact and closeness. Some believe a teen first needs to form an identity and know who she or he is before developing a healthy intimate relationship. Other experts feel that romantic relationships are a way for teens to learn more about themselves. Many young teens are still defining themselves and romantic relationships may be based on a false sense of intimacy-in other words, teens don't know themselves well enough to share who they are with someone else.
Having a crush in the late elementary school and early middle school years is perfectly natural and part of the biological changes of puberty. Before we can see puberty's physical changes, preteens (aged 8-10) experience an increase in hormones. Greater levels of sex hormones may influence a preteens first romantic feelings. Having a crush is not a problem, but acting on early romantic feelings and biology when a teen is not emotionally or socially ready can lead to problems for early daters.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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