teen depression

Despite what 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.

Some believe that dating is just a part of being a teenager. Forming a romantic relationship for the first time can help in a teenager's own self-esteem. It's almost like it's a rite of passage for adolecents. Researchers at the University of Georgia say that's true, but they've also found that not dating could be even more beneficial for teenagers.

“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.”

Douglas, though, wanted to study that thought a bit more. Did that mean those who didn't date were missing normal milestones in other places?

“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.

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 pro-dating peers. The data analyzed in this study was collected by study co-author Pamela Orpinas, a GU professor of health promotion and behavior, during a 2013 study she led, in which a cohort of 594 students were monitored from sixth grade up until 12th grade, starting in 2013.

In addition to dating habits, the students were asked about home life, relationships with friends, and if they had symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts. Each student’s teacher was also asked to rate the teen’s leadership and social skills, and if they showed signs of depression.

Based on all the feedback, the students that were not dating scored higher in leadership and social skills, and lower in depression than the ones who were dating. While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home, and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.

"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," said Orpinas.

It now can give parents, teachers, and school leadership a different outlook on the kids that do not date, because it's not necessarily a sign that they aren't thriving in their own way.

"While the study refutes the notion of non-daters as social misfits, it also calls for health promotion interventions at schools and elsewhere to include non-dating as an option for normal, healthy development," said Douglas.

"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," she said.

It should be noted that teens used a broad definition for dating which included “spending time” with someone for more than a month.

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