Daddy, Can I Date?
I remember the day it happened. My 6th grade daughter asked me if she could date a particular young man. My first thought was, “Is she crazy? My little girl…another man? No way!” Maybe I was overreacting. So, rather than give her my initial thoughts, I became curious. “What does it mean to date someone?” I asked.
“I don’t know?” she answered. “I guess we’d see each other at school and talk.”
Still curious, I pushed a little
further. “Would you kiss him?”
“Eww. Daaad. Yuck.”
“I guess that’s a ‘no’?” She
shook her head. “Well, are you going to hold hands?”
“No. That’s gross.”
Satisfied that her idea of dating was very different than my initial fears, I said, “Sure. You can date him.”
Dating seems like such a normal part of the teen years. Many consider it an important learning experience for teens, helping them develop their self-identity and social skills. It increases their awareness of others. It helps them learn about their emotions and the emotions of others. But, is it necessary? What if your teen just doesn’t date? Will they still learn these things? According to research from the University of Georgia, the answer is “Yes.”
The researchers conducting this study analyzed data that followed students from the 6th grade through 12th grade. Every spring, students completed surveys that included information on dating, social and emotional factors, relationships with peers and family, symptoms of depression, and suicidal thoughts. Their teachers also completed questionnaires rating each student’s social skills, leadership skills, and levels of depression.
The results are interesting. First, the self-reports of students did not differ between dating and non-dating students. However, the teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher in social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
In addition, scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the non-dating students (according to the teachers). The non-dating students also reported being sad or depressed at a significantly lower rate than the dating students. It seems that non-dating teens avoid a great deal of drama and so experience a lower incidence of depression. Overall, it turns out that both dating and non-dating are normal, healthy behaviors for teens. Both dating and non-dating teens learn social skills and grow emotionally. Both grow in their self-identity. No worries. Dating or not, our children can mature into healthy, happy adults.