Written by Pamela Chambers for tutoring|made personal
You’re a Star Pupil (and a Freshman). He’s the star athlete. And he’s a senior. What’s so bad about that?
Adolescence is a period of inevitable emotional turmoil. Balancing schoolwork with friendships, family responsibilities, and community commitments happen at a time when adolescents begin to negotiate identity, sexuality, and new romantic relationships.
Even for straight-A students, high school and the early college years can feel like jumping off a cliff and straight into shark-infested waters. Learning to navigate personal commitments with academic obligations during puberty is a wholly new territory. Many students experience strong feelings of overwhelm and anxiety as they learn to adapt to a new physical environment both internally (their bodies) and externally (high school culture and the social environment).
With the added pressures of social media and Instagram, adolescents today confront never before experienced challenges of increased pressure to fit in by standing out both socially and academically. Navigating friendships and relationships alone is difficult—today’s social media adds particular nuance to issues of inclusion and exclusion, popularity, and social reputation. It is no surprise that what may start on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook finds its way to the study corner, at the school library, and in the classroom.
No matter what form or label, developing meaningful, mature, and safe relationships is the key to healthy development of social and emotional intelligence and life skills necessary for adulthood. Successfully navigating key friendships and early dating experiences sets the tone for future relationships and can also help high-achievers learn to balance personal and academic commitments in college and early adulthood.
What are some ways to develop meaningful, mature, and safe relationships as adolescents?
-Respect each other’s time and boundaries
-Advocate for your comfort level
-Stop texting (and look up!)
-Commit to friends and people of interest by spending quality time—(tour a museum with free library museum passes, ride bikes, get outdoors!)
-Share a hobby (take your science project to the next level!)
-Encourage one another’s interests and goals
-Nurture a sense of open-mindedness and reasonable expectations
When should you date?
The question of if, and so when, to date during adolescence will surely come up. Typically, young people begin dating, one-on-one, in middle adolescence. The average age for girls is 14 or 15; for boys, 15 or 16. Some teens who enter puberty early may start to date earlier, and some don’t begin dating until their college years.
As a general guideline, Dr. Eagar, a Pediatrician at Denver Medical Center, advises not allowing single dating before age sixteen. “There’s an enormous difference between a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old and a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old in terms of life experience,” he says. You might add or subtract a year depending on how mature and responsible a teen is. Community standards might be a consideration. Are other parents letting their teens date yet?
Starting to date is a very personal decision that completely depends on the individual’s cultural background, comfort level, maturity, and sense of self. In short, the ball is in your court. It is important to recognize that first relationships are incredibly important learning experiences—that are as difficult and time-consuming as 1-2 AP classes. They also come with many risks and rewards.
What’s there to look forward to and what’s there to be afraid of?
Discovering new hobbies, building memories and shared experiences, learning to compromise and communicate, and sharpening your self-concept in a new friendship or early dating/romantic relationship are some of the rich rewards to reap in a positive, healthy new relationship. However, research shows that dating too early may have a negative impact on the social, emotional and academic life of teens.
Developing relationships with anyone who is significantly older or simply more experienced with relationships could be a serious mistake for many students, who may not feel comfortable voicing their comfort level, boundaries, or even sharing opinions on everyday topics. These challenges, along with disparate expectations of relationships can hamper a positive relationship outcome.
Early dating also affects same-sex friendships. Teens may be enticed into different cliques and social circles to fit in with the person they are dating. To prove themselves, the young teen may feel that they have to change their appearance or behave differently to meet expectations or fit in with their date’s social circles. While these behaviors may help to begin to fit in with a new crowd, they may alienate the teen from their existing peer group, and more, unfortunately, themselves and their personal values.
Finally, early dating can interfere with achievement. Teens who begin dating will become more self-conscious and anxious than teens who are still spending their free time with other teens who do not date. These teens may underachieve in school to look more attractive to a particular group or individual. Teens may also invest significant time into new relationships and not have time for schoolwork, outside interests, and hobbies.
It is much better for teens to develop the social skills needed for dating gradually by hanging out in groups with friends to support them and parents to supervise them. Teens will begin to feel more comfortable with the opposite sex and confident about themselves. They will then be better at handling dates, potential romance, and future relationships.
The rising sophomore and star pupil had an amazing experience dating a respectful, older student but had some significant challenges. His social circle added significant pressure to her daily life at school as another student competed for his attention and made it obvious at school events. It did not affect her school work, but she did lose focus at times when he texted her. And there were several weekends she was glued to her phone awaiting his response. She was also too young to go to the dance with him and had to stay home. And when they ended things—neither was sure how to maintain a level of friendship without awkwardness.
By: Pamela Chambers, M.Ed., N.B.C.C.
P.S. I’d love to hear about your stories of your children and adolescent dating! Join our conversations in our private Facebook Group.