University of Florida

Teens & Dating

Young teens usually hang out with friends who are the same gender they are. But as they reach the mid-teen years, many start having romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

Dating is a natural part of adolescence--here is what parents need to know to support their teen through this time.

Teen Relationships

Understanding how teen relationships work is the first part of being a supportive parent.

Most romantic relationships among twelve- and fourteen-year olds last less than five months. For this group, dating is superficial--for fun, to increase status among peers, and exploring attraction.

When teens reach age sixteen, relationships last an average of two years. Older teens date more to find intimacy, companionship, affection, and social support.

Even when teens are dating, they are still closer with their friends than romantic partners. The security they feel in their friendships carries over to their romantic relationships. The same is true of teens and their parents--when teens feel secure and supported by their parents, they feeling secure and happy in their friendships and romantic relationships.

Although teen relationships may not last long, they are a chance to practice for adult relationships.

What Teens Learn

For teens, dating can provide and opportunity to learn:

  • Cooperation skills.
  • Socially appropriate behavior.
  • Interdependence and compromise.
  • Empathy and sensitivity.
  • Intimacy.

Teens who have happy and caring relationships in teen years often have satisfying, committed relationships when they reach adulthood.

Problems in Teen Dating

While teen dating can be a positive experience, sometimes there are drawbacks, especially for young teens and early adolescents.

Crushes are a natural part of early middle school years, but acting on the feelings from biological changes at this age can be a problem. Pre-teen adolescents often are not emotionally or socially ready for dating.

Teens face strong peer pressure to date and get involved in romantic relationships. This can mean that some teens may become involved in unsatisfactory relationships or may date frequently.

Frequent dating in early adolescence has been connected with some risk behaviors, including poor school performance, drug use, depression, and sexual activity. Dating violence is also a concern for teens who start dating frequently and at an early age.

Parental Support

To support your teen and help them have healthy relationships, consider doing the following:

  • Give a safe and secure base for open communication with your teen about his or her relationships.
  • Ask open ended questions to guide your teen to think about his or her expectations and values in relationships.
  • Share your own experiences and advice about relationships.
  • Be willing to allow your older teen's dating, unless there appears to be a threat of physical or psychological harm.
  • Keep an awareness that your teen's identity is still forming.
  • Inform your teen about the rules and consequences you have set on dating and why.

Dating in the teen years can have both positives and problems. Strengthening family communication and providing a supportive atmosphere can guide you and your teen through this time and produce healthy, happy young adults.

For more information on communication, family relationships, and teen development, contact your local Extension agent.

Adapted and excerpted from:

K. Fogarty, Teens and Dating: Tips for Parents and Professionals (FCS2250), Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (Archived).

Money in a jar

Related Sites & Articles

Popular Stories