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Here is Why Teens Should Consider Delaying Dating
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Here is Why Teens Should Consider Delaying Dating

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An illuminating new study has shown that dating can have a detrimental impact on a teenager’s mood and mental health.

The research, which was performed by a team at the University of Georgia, found that teens who didn’t date during junior high and high school had lower rates of depression than teens who did date.   

As a sex educator (and a mother of 3 boys!), I often am asked by parents when they should allow their teenager to date. This new study is so important because it shows that along with important concerns like safer sex and teen pregnancy, parents also must consider what possible impact dating may have on their mood and mental well-being.

Dating can complicate a teen’s mental health for a variety of reasons. We don’t need a study to tell us that, we only have to look back and remember our first experiences with true love and how intense and earth-shattering those emotions were. This is why I really urge parents to be careful about taking a cavalier approach to their teens’ dating, such as joking about their crushes or taking a teasing or even mocking attitude about their teens’ first love.

Plus, romance these days is a much different affair than in our generation. Dating in the new millennium is so pressurized. It’s not just about going to prom or getting a coke at the local diner anymore. Teens who date today are facing major challenges that previous generations never faced, from the pressure to send nude photos to the ubiquity of pornography to social media to changing cultural expectations about gender identity and expression.

No wonder this new study shows that dating can wreak havoc on a teen’s mental health. This makes perfect sense, as even adults can struggle to cope and focus at work when dealing with a broken heart. But, unlike adults, teens don’t have the life experience and resources they need to safely navigate this emotional trauma. That’s why as parents we really need to stay connected to what is happening to our teens emotionally and to help support their mental health as much as we can. We also need to make sure that we don’t treat their pain as silly or inconsequential, even if may seem like ‘puppy love’ to us.

This is part of the reason why I was so passionate about writing my sex-education book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex.” I really believe that parents today need to completely reconsider the way they talk about ‘the birds and the bees,’ and that this needs to become not a one-time talk but a conversation that is ongoing, compassionate, non-judgmental and informative.   

It’s not enough to briefly talk about condoms and encourage kids to wait until marriage. We have to take a comprehensive approach to sex education as parents, especially as so many schools are limiting or even removing sex ed from their curriculum. We need to talk about crucial topics like revenge porn and how to avoid pressure to take nude photos, we need to talk about consent and how the lack of a ‘no’ isn’t a ‘yes,’ we need to talk about sexual fluidity, and so, so much more.

Most importantly, parents need to help teens establish a strong sense of self-worth and an ability to maintain focus and equilibrium even when teenage romance goes awry.

Dating when you are a teenager is thrilling, but it can also be terrifying and heartbreaking. Competent parental support and guidance can help teens weather these storms and come out stronger on the other side.