ATHENS, Ga. — In contrast to every movie or television show you’ve ever seen about teenagers in high school, a new study has found that teens who don’t date are happier, less depressed, and more adept at dealing with a variety of social situations.
It’s generally believed that dating is a perfectly healthy part of being a teenager. Forming a romantic connection for the first time can help teens’ grow their self-esteem, mature on an emotional level, and develop important social skills for later on in life. While all of that still holds true, researchers from the University of Georgia say that not dating can be just as, if not more, beneficial for teens.
The research team discovered that teens who had not dated during middle or high school displayed good social skills, low levels of depression, and generally fared equal to or better than their classmates who were dating.
“The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age, or middle adolescence,” explains doctoral student and the study’s lead author Brooke Douglas in a release. “This high frequency has led some researchers to suggest that dating during teenage years is a normative behavior. That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development.”
“Does this mean that teens that don’t date are maladjusted in some way? That they are social misfits? Few studies had examined the characteristics of youth who do not date during the teenage years, and we decided we wanted to learn more,” Douglas continues.
So, in order to investigate if this societal assumption is correct, Douglas and her team looked at a group of 10th grade students who had reported none to very little romantic activity over a seven-year period. They examined each student’s emotional and social capabilities and then compared that information with their more oft-dating peers.
The student-collected data used for the study was gathered from a group of Northeast Georgia students as they progressed from sixth to 12th grade. Data collection began in 2013. Each spring, students were asked about their dating habits, as well a number of other emotional and social factors such as positive relationships with friends, home life, behavior at school, depression symptoms, and suicidal thoughts. Each student’s teachers were also surveyed, and asked about the child’s social skills, leadership characteristics, and depression symptoms.
Surprisingly, the study’s authors discovered that non-dating students had either similar, or better, interpersonal skills than their dating classmates. Furthermore, while self-reported positive relationship scores did not differ between either groups, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher than their romance-seeking classmates in terms of social and leadership skills.
Regarding depression, teachers also rated non-dating students as less depressed. Additionally, far fewer abstinent students reported feeling depressed or hopeless regularly than students who were known to date.
“In summary, we found that non-dating students are doing well and are simply following a different and healthy developmental trajectory than their dating peers,” says study co-author professor Pamela Orpinas.
Douglas and her team believe that schools should do more to remind students that choosing not to date is just as healthy and normal as dating.
“As public health professionals, we can do a better job of affirming that adolescents do have the individual freedom to choose whether they want to date or not, and that either option is acceptable and healthy,” Douglas concludes.
The study is published in The Journal of School Health.