Throughout adolescence, teens become increasingly involved in a wide array of
romantic experiences, including romantic and sexual relationships. Being in a
dating relationship — where youth spend time with a current or potential romantic
partner — is one common pattern, and is considered an important developmental
marker for teens. Dating is associated with both positive and negative
Child Trends Databank
More than 47 percent of all high school students say they have had sex, and 15
percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Research indicates dating starts between 12 and 14 years of age, with more serious relationships
usually reserved for the later teen years. Half of all teens report having been in a dating
relationship, and nearly one-third of all teens said they have been in a serious relationship
(Collins, Welsh, & Furman, 2009; Furman, Brown, & Feiring, 1999; Sorensen, 2007). This brief
resource highlights positive and negative facets of youth dating and explores the role of schools in
accentuating the positives and minimizing the negatives.
Dating from a Developmental Perspective
For a variety of psychosocial, cultural, and religious reasons the topic of teen dating is complex and
often controversial and confusing. A significant facet of all this is the possibility of sexual activity.
Although adolescent romantic relationships may last for only a few weeks or months, these early
relationships play a pivotal role in the lives of adolescents and provide a foundation for developing
committed relationships in adulthood. However, teen dating can also have negative developmental
Healthy adolescent romantic relationships can be characterized as including teens who are relatively
close in age who develop open communication, high levels of honesty and trust, mutual respect,
appropriate compromise, mutual understanding, and encourage each other’s individuality. Among
other benefits, such relationships are viewed as providing emotional support and enhancing
interpersonal skills (Sorensen, 2007; Debnam, Howard, & Garza, 2014).
In contrast, dating someone who is not supportive and trusting or who is violent or abusive can
undermine an individual's sense of self-worth and induce social and emotional stress. During crucial
developmental stages, unhealthy romantic relationships can hinder, harm, and distort personal
growth. Furthermore, dating violence can be socially contagious (Mulford and Giordano, 2008).
Teen dating also raises concerns about sexual exploration. In many cultures, sexual exploration is
viewed as a common and natural part of development. Sexual exploration may enhance an
individual’s understanding and appreciation of his/her body. Sexual exploration with others may
play a role in learning about sexual responsibility (e.g., about consensual sex and mutual respect).
At the same time, it is clear that some individuals have problems related to such exploration,
especially when they experience dating violence (Besharov and Gardiner, 1993; Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 2016; Ein-Dor and Hirschberger, 2012).
*The material in this document reflects work done by Yibing Yang as part of his involvement with the
national Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA.
The center is co-directed by Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor in the Dept. of Psychology, UCLA,