During the adolescent years, it is perfectly normal to have a number of different dating relationships. That is how teens learn what they like and dislike in a boyfriend or girlfriend and in a dating relationship. When dating, it is important to create healthy relationships. Healthy relationships may take a variety of forms, but they tend to include a few key components, such as mutual respect and trust. Other elements are honesty, support in good and bad times, good communication, and fairness. It is also important to maintain a sense of independence. A healthy relationship does not require being together every free moment. In fact, in a healthy relationship each person pursues his or her own individual responsibilities, friends, and interests. These characteristics are in contrast to an unhealthy relationship, which may include mean, disrespectful, controlling, and/or abusive behavior.
Although there are many long-married adults who met as teens and have been together for decades, most teen dating relationships do not continue for extended periods of times. Teens are still growing and changing. It is not uncommon for teens to evolve out of a relationship. That is part of the teen dating process.
Whenever possible, it is a good idea for teens to discuss healthy relationships with their parents. And, it is an equally good idea for parents to try to model healthy relationships for their teens.
In an article published in 2010 in the Journal of Community Health Nursing, a researcher from Austin, Texas, described a community-based interactive theater program designed to help middle school students learn to form healthier relationships. The cohort consisted of 114 primarily Hispanic seventh-grade health class students who lived in an underserved rural school district in Central Texas.
The program included three consecutive theater performances and one follow-up performance; each was about 50 minutes in length. A total of 24 performances took place during a three-week period of time. The topics of respect, bullying, and sexual harassment were interwoven into the play. Qualitative responses from the students indicated that the majority considered the program to be “a positive experience.” Based on what they had learned, the students anticipated that their future behavior would change. The researcher noted that “creative, appealing programs using community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods can be an effective means of teaching youth how to recognize and form healthy peer and beginning romantic relationships.” 2
In a study published in 2010 in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers from Utah and Florida investigated the effectiveness of college-based relationship education on improving the fidelity of college students in committed romantic relationships. The cohort consisted of 380 college students. The intervention group had about five times as many students as the control group. For the intervention group, the relationship education program was integrated into existing college courses. It included information on partner selection, healthy relationship transitions, communication skills, and the potentially negative consequences of cheating and how to prevent cheating from occurring. The students in the control group did not receive relationship education. At baseline, 11 percent of the students admitted to having sexual intercourse with someone other than their romantic partner, 13 percent said they had sexual behavior but not sex, 44 percent indicated they caressed and hugged, and 22 percent noted that they kissed. When compared to the students in the control group, the students who received the intervention were less likely to commit unfaithful acts. As a result, the researchers concluded that this educational intervention reduced the overall frequency of acts of infidelity over the course of a semester. This was especially true for females. 3
In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers from the University of Cincinnati examined the association between the healthfulness of a same-sex romantic relationship and depressive symptoms. The cohort consisted of a geographically diverse sample of 571 adults (62 percent women) in the United States who are in same-sex relationships. They completed online surveys that asked several questions about their relationships and individual characteristics. The researchers found a moderately negative association between relationship quality and depressive symptoms, which is similar to results obtained from heterosexual couples. There were no gender differences. The researchers commented that “the robust association between relationship quality and depressive symptoms observed in this sample highlights the potential importance of intimate relationships to the well-being of LGBT adults.” 4
In an observational study published in 2014 in the journal Family Relations, researchers from the University of Missouri investigated sibling communication about dating and sexuality. The cohort consisted of 28 dyads who were recruited through community organizations and videotaped during their conversations. All of the younger sisters were in high school. On average, the younger sisters were 15.76 years, and the older sisters were 19.03 years. The average age gap between the sisters was 3.28 years.
The researchers determined that the sisters functioned in three different roles—confidants, sources of support, and mentors. While older and younger sisters served as confidants and sources of support for each other, the older sisters were more likely to be mentors for their younger sisters. The researchers emphasized that their findings indicated “the potential importance of sisters in the formation of adolescent girls’ ideas about romantic relationships and sexuality.” In addition, because of older sisters’ mentoring role, they may be useful “in prevention intervention programs focused on reducing adolescent sexual risk behaviors and promoting healthy romantic relationships and sexual development.” 5
In a study published in 2014 in the journal Research in Nursing & Health, researchers from Florida wanted to learn more about the perceptions Cuban American teens and their parents have about dating relationships. The researchers held a total of eight focus groups that included 29 ninth-grade teens, 29 parents or primary caretakers, and 16 school personnel. The teens, the parents/caretakers, and the school personnel each had separate groups that only included their peers. All the teens, who were between the ages of 13 and 16 years, attended an urban public high school in Miami-Dade County where 97 percent the population was of Hispanic origin. Most frequently, the students reported that they were of Cuban descent. During the focus groups, parents, students, and school personnel all expressed concern about teen dating violence in their community. And, they maintained that adolescents of Hispanic origin had an increased risk for dating violence because of factors such as early sexual initiation. Furthermore, the participants noted generational differences in dating norms, and the influences of school, community, and society presented challenges to maintaining healthy relationships. For example, while parents viewed relationships that included sex to be serious, the teens considered sex to be a normal part of the relationship. The teens felt that abuse was a frequent part of relationships, and they reported that boyfriends and girlfriends often embarrassed each other in public and used “foul” language in their communication. 7
1. Debnam Katrina J., Donna E. Howard, and Mary A. Garza, “‘If You Don’t Have Honesty in a Relationship, Then There Is No Relationship’: African American Girls’ Characterization of Healthy Dating Relationships, A Qualitative Study,” Journal of Primary Prevention 35, no. 6 (2014): 397-407.
2. Nina M. Fredland, “Nurturing Healthy Relationships Through a Community-Based Interactive Theater Program,” Journal of Community Healthy Nursing 27, no. 2 (2010): 107-18.
3. Scott R. Braithwaite, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham, and Kay Pasley, “Does College-Based Relationship Education Decrease Extradyadic Involvement in Relationships?” Journal of Family Psychology 24, no. 6 (2010): 740-45.
4. Sarah W. Whitton and Amanda D. Kuryluk, “Associations Between Relationship Quality and Depressive Symptoms in Same-Sex Couples,” Journal of Family Psychology 28, no. 4 (2014): 571-76.
5. Sarah L. Killoren and Andrea L. Roach, “Sibling Conversations About Dating and Sexuality: Sisters as Confidants, Sources of Support, and Mentors,” Family Relations 63, no. 2 (2014): 232-43.
6. Russell B. Clayton, Alexander Nagurney, and Jessica R. Smith, “Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce: Is Facebook Use to Blame?” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 16, no. 10 (2013): 717-20.
7. R. M. Gonzalez-Guarda, A. M. Cummings, K. Pino et al., “Perceptions of Adolescents, Parents, and School Personnel from a Predominantly Cuban American Community Regarding Dating and Teen Dating Violence Prevention,” Research in Nursing & Health 37, no. 2 (2014): 117-27.
8. Phyllis Holditch Niolon, Alana M. Vivolo-Kantor, Natasha E. Latzman et al., “Prevalence of Teen Dating Violence and Co-Occurring Risk Factors Among Middle School Youth in High-Risk Urban Communities,” Journal of Adolescent Health 56 (2015): S5-S13.
Braithwaite, Scott R., Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham, and Kay Pasley. “Does College-Based Relationship Education Decrease Extradyadic Involvement in Relationships?” Journal of Family Psychology 24, no. 6 (2010): 740-45.
Clayton, Russell B., Alexander Nagurney, and Jessica R. Smith. “Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce: Is Facebook Use to Blame?” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 16, no. 10 (2013): 717-20.
Debnam, Katrina J., Donna E. Howard, and Mary A. Garza. “‘If You Don’t Have Honesty in a Relationship, Then There Is No Relationship’: African American Girls’ Characterization of Healthy Dating Relationships, A Qualitative Study.” Journal of Primary Prevention 35, no. 6 (2014): 397-407.
Fredland, Nina M. “Nurturing Healthy Relationships Through a Community-Based Interactive Theater Program.” Journal of Community Health Nursing 27, no. 2 (2010): 107-18.
Gonzalez-Guarda, R. M., A. M. Cummings, K. Pino et al. “Perceptions of Adolescents, Parents, and School Personnel from a Predominantly Cuban American Community Regarding Dating and Teen Dating Violence Prevention.” Research in Nursing & Health 37, no. 2 (2014): 117-27.
Haglund, Kristin, Ruth Ann Belknap, and Juanita Terrie Garcia. “Mexican American Female Adolescents’ Perceptions of Relationships and Dating Violence.” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 44, no. 3 (2012): 215-22.
Killoren, Sarah L., and Andrea L. Roach. “Sibling Conversations about Dating and Sexuality: Sisters as Confidants, Sources of Support, and Mentors.” Family Relations 63, no. 2 (2014): 232-43.
Macauda, Mark M., Pamela I. Erickson, Merrill C. Singer, and Claudia C. Santelices. “A Cultural Model of Infidelity Among African American and Puerto Rican Young Adults.” Anthropology & Medicine 18, no. 3 (2011): 351-64.
Niolon, Phyllis Holditch, Alana M. Vivolo-Kantor, Natasha E. Latzman et al. “Prevalence of Teen Dating Violence and Co-Occurring Risk Factors Among Middle School Youth in High-Risk Urban Communities.” Journal of Adolescent Health 56 (2015): S5-S13.
Ward, Karen M., Julie P. Atkinson, Curtis A. Smith, and Richard Windsor. “A Friendships and Dating Program for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Formative Evaluation.” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 51, no. 1 (2013): 22-32.
Whitton, Sarah W., and Amanda D. Kuryluk. “Associations Between Relationship Quality and Depressive Symptoms in Same-Sex Couples.” Journal of Family Psychology 28, no. 4 (2014): 571-76.
The Nemours Foundation. www.kidshealth.org .