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Do All Teens Date?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you’re a teenager, you’ve probably thought about dating.

Maybe you’ve decided you don’t want to date at all, maybe you’ve decided you want to date some, and maybe you’ve decided you want to date a lot.

We have some good news for you: no matter which category you’re in, you have company.

This means that if you don’t want to date at all, or you just want to date a little bit, you’re not alone, even if it seems like every teenager on earth – or at least all the ones at your school – totally date all the time.

There’s another thing: some people think that if you don’t date, you’re missing out on an important developmental phase that all adolescents have to go through to be mentally and emotionally healthy.

The upshot of that point of view is that if you don’t date, you won’t be as well-adjusted as other teens, and that in the long run, you won’t develop personal skills you need later in life.

Don’t worry, though, because facts – as opposed to opinion – are on the way.

How?

A group of researchers at the University of Georgia conducted a study to get to the bottom of this issue.

This article is about what they found.

The Data on Dating

Researchers designed the study – called “Social Misfit or Normal Development? Students Who Do Not Date” – to find out whether students who do not date, or only date a little, are any different than students who do date. They were interested in differences in three developmental areas:

The authors of the study surveyed previous research on dating and identified three common dating patterns among adolescents:

  1. Low. Students in this category reported dating around one time per year between sixth and twelfth grade. These students made up 16% of the sample set.
  2. Increasing. Students in this category reported dating between three and four times per year between sixth and twelfth grade. These students made up 24% of the sample set.
  3. High Middle School. Students in this category reported dating between four and five times per year between sixth and twelfth grade. These students made up 22% of the sample set.
  4. Frequent. Students in this category reported dating around six times per year between sixth and twelfth grade. These students made up 38% of the sample set.

For big picture context, the largest survey of dating prevalence conducted in the U.S., The National Study of Adolescent Health, showed that 55% of teens dated at least once between ages 12-18, and that that number increased from 26% at age 12 to 73% at age 18.

Now let’s see what this new study found about differences in wellbeing among individuals who fall into the different dating types, as measured by their emotional, interpersonal, and adaptive skills.

Your Parents are Going to Love This

You’ll see what we mean.

Because here’s what the researchers found:

  • Students in the low dating category had similar or better teacher-reported interpersonal skills than students in the frequent dating category.
  • Students in the low dating category had lower self-reported scores on depression scales than students in the frequent dating category.
  • Students in the low dating category had lower teacher-reported scores on depression scales than students in the frequent dating category.

Those are the three points your parents are going to love. But now here’s one you’ll love:

  • Researchers found no difference between any of the groups in self-reported positive relationships at home, at school, and with friends.

And now it’s time to circle back to the idea we talked about at the beginning of the article:

If you don’t date, you won’t be as well-adjusted as other teens, and that in the long run, you won’t develop personal skills you need later in life.

The data says that idea is, in a word, false.

In fact, when you ask teachers – and listen to what other teens say about whether or not they’re depressed – you’ll learn that teens who don’t date or only date a little are less depressed and get along better with their peers.

All that to say this:

“Hey, listen – if you don’t want to date, you aren’t the only one, and plus, you’ll be fine. You’re not missing out on anything you won’t learn anyway.”

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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