Bad news for puppy love. A University of Georgia study has found that kids who date during middle school are more likely to have low test scores and poor study skills, use drugs and drop out of high school.
The study monitored 624 students in northeast Georgia for seven years, from the time they were in sixth grade to the time they reached the 12th grade. Each year, they reported how much they dated, the status of their romantic relationships and their drug and alcohol use. Teachers were also asked to complete questionnaires about the students' performance. Of the kids who started dating early (38 percent of test subjects), reported continued dating through the end of high school. Twenty-two percent of students started dating as sixth graders and increased the amount of dating they did through high school. With striking consistency, students who did not date during middle school and very little in high school were reported to have the best study skills and highest test scores. Conversely, kids who dated a lot starting in middle school were worse off, with higher dropout rates, instances of drug use and poor study skills.
The study's lead author Pamela Orpinas say dating early is part of an overall tendency toward high-risk behaviors. She further explained, "Dating a classmate may have the same emotional complications of dating a co-worker. 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." But having a romantic interest in classmates and even dating are normal parts of adolescent development. According to the study's press release, "authors indicated that more research is needed to identify characteristics that distinguish dating as a healthy developmental process from dating as part of a problem behavior syndrome."
How do you decide when your child is old enough (or mature enough) to start dating?