Kids that Begin Dating in Middle School Four Times Likelier to Drop Out Than Their Peers

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holding handsA study recently published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence finds that kids that begin dating in middle school are nearly four times likelier to drop out of school, and twice as likely to engage in substance use, than children that either didn’t date at all in junior high or waited until they were older to begin courting.

In a study of more than 600 sixth- to 12th- grade students in Georgia, researchers collected data about the dating habits of young people, and compared the findings with questionnaires measuring academic performance and drug use.

The longitudinal study -- funded by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (an office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- began with researchers measuring the dating tendencies of children in the sixth grade, with the study breaking subjects up into four groups, ranging from “low dating students” that reported hardly any dating experiences over seven annual assessments to “frequent dating students” that reported dating experiences at nearly every assessment period.

“At all time points, teachers rated students in the ‘low dating’ group with the best study skills and students in the ‘frequent dating’ group with the worst study skills,” the study concluded.

Not only did high-frequency daters that began courting in middle school have generally lower grades than their peers, there were also at an elevated risk of dropping out of high school altogether. While 7.4 percent of low frequency daters dropped out of high school, the study found that 24.5 percent of high-frequency daters ultimately ended up becoming dropouts when they were older.

Similarly, researchers suggest that high-frequency daters are generally twice as likely to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, in both middle and high school. Compared to low-frequency daters, researchers found that high-intensity daters engaged in alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use at twice the rate of their peers once they entered high school.

“Parents, educators, and healthcare providers should consider whether early dating is part of a more complex pattern of high-risk behaviors and encourage middle school students to focus on friendships and academic pursuits,” the study concludes. “A strategy to help early adolescents is to change social norms to make it acceptable not to date or to consider dating as an option, not a required rite of passage in middle school.”

Photo by Amy Heart