NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 13, 2005

Conventional wisdom has long held that "dating around" gives kids the experience they need to make good choices of adult partners, but a growing body of research now challenges those popular notions about teen romance, says the Wall Street Journal.

Researchers have found fewer, deeper relationships are better preparation for happy adult partnerships and teen dating plays a unique developmental role, helping to equip teens with intimacy skills needed to form lasting, happy marriages.

In one study, based on a 28-year look at 180 Midwestern subjects at the University of Minnesota, researchers found:

  • Teens who date a lot, or have more than seven to nine dating partners from ages 15 to 17, do not have a higher likelihood of developing healthy adult relationships; instead, their romances in their 20s are likely to be more troubled.
  • Teens who dated only one or a few people, and formed relationships of more than a few weeks, emerged in their 20s with closer and more-trusting romantic ties than those who had more numerous and fleeting dates.
  • While the old dating-around model may develop social skills, it does not teach the deeper variety of intimacy skills, such as communicating well and solving conflicts, that sustain a marriage.

In another University of Minnesota study, researchers followed 3,779 subjects through age 25:

  • Deeper, more lasting teen relationships increase the likelihood of marriage; the average age of U.S. women at first marriage is about 25; for men, it's 27.
  • Unmarried teenage girls who settle down with longer relationships or just one partner at 16 or 17 -- and were still unmarried at age 21 -- are more likely to be married by ages 22 to 25; the pattern was less pronounced for boys.

To encourage healthy dating, parents should supervise their teens and discuss values and consequences with them. Parents should avoid micromanaging their teen's behavior, says the Journal.

Source: Sue Shellenbarger, "The Case for Going Steady: Studies Say Teen Dating Habits Affect Marriage Skills," Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2005.

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