When should your kid start dating?
If they start as early as 11 or 12, they are more likely to engage in unwanted behaviors during their teen years than students who start dating later, according to a new study to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Adolescence.
The group that researchers classified as “early-starting”—those who began dating at 11.6 years old, on average—reported twice as many acts of abnormal or delinquent behavior as the groups classified as “on-time” teens (those who started at 12.9 years) and those classified as “late bloomers” (those who started at 14.9 years). Those behaviors included lying and cheating, picking fights, truancy, disobedience and running away.
Researchers said they also had increased risk of unsafe sexual activity and alcohol use, according to the study.
As the father of two girls, ages 14 and 11, I crave this sort of information about the possible effects of my daughters getting involved with the opposite sex. In our house, there’s no way in hell that either one of them would be allowed to engage in something that could be classified as “dating” before age 16, but that’s just us. I’m aware that the rules are different in other households, and I don’t pass judgment on those who choose to handle this differently.
The rules were the same with my son, who luckily didn’t really start developing an interest in anything resembling “dating” until age 16. He had a steady girlfriend by his senior year of high school, so clearly he was not harmed by the wait.
For many of us parents, who may be projecting fears or traumas onto our children from our own childhood memories, it’s handy to have actual research to confirm that burning sensation in the pits of our stomachs when we think about our kids and the opposite sex.
The researchers say that kids who enter into intimate relationships too early can be ill-prepared to handle typical problems couples face and they don’t have support systems from their peers because most of them aren’t dating yet.
On the other hand, late-starting daters, while they may be out of step with their peers, appeared to have no apparent social or emotional difficulties, according to the research.
In other words, they suffered no harm from waiting.
This valuable info comes by way of researchers at York University in Toronto, who used data that had been collected from 1996 to 2003 on 698 students from 12 local schools.
The researchers say a majority of students, 55 percent, were classified as “on-time” teens, whose romantic activity gradually matured during adolescence. The early starting group, who began a consistent pattern of dating and intimate relationships between age 10 and 12, made up 20 percent of the participants, while the late bloomers accounted for 25 percent of the group.
Once the late bloomers started dating, they tended to follow an accelerated path that quickly took them through the casual and group-dating stages before moving to exclusive relationships. But researchers saw no adverse effect from this pattern. They said the girls in the late-bloomer group were about 15.5 years old when they started dating, about a year older than boys.
In addition, students with high academic goals were more likely to be late bloomers.
That one should be repeated: Students who were busy kicking butt in the classroom didn’t have time for all this amorous activity.
So when your child comes slinking up to you, mumbling something about a boy in Algebra and going to the movies, or that girl in Social Studies and “studying together,” you should have these research findings committed to memory by then.
And maybe you can start practicing a word that teenagers need to hear early and often: NO.
What are the rules of dating in your house—and how have they worked out for you? MyBrownBaby wants to hear from you.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.