Over the past 20 years, I have seen a reduction in the number of teens and young adults who date. They complain that they are too busy, dating takes too much time and effort, and they don’t want the responsibility. Instead of dating, many try “hooking up” at parties, which most don’t realize, produces trust issues in a relationship. For example, if two people who date have a history of “hooking up,” end up at different parties one night, there will be a natural fear that their dating partner “may not” be faithful based on their history of “hooking up.”
Dating can provide important experiences in learning how to build relationships. These relationship skills are critical life skills that can promote communication, setting relationship boundaries, social skills, and emotional maturity. Being in a relationship can help you learn how to assess compatibility, develop trust and mutual respect, negotiate conflict and respectfully end a relationship. Dating can promote self-confidence and self-esteem. Mutual compatibility can produce feelings of emotional support, lowered stress, and positive affection, all of which can enhance mood and mental health.
Supporting each other through shared challenges can be quite rewarding. Learning how to listen, understand concerns, and offer empathy can help both people cope and feel less alone. Dating can enhance your ability to make critical decisions that involve learning how to balance the urge for pleasure vs responsible action. Specifically, learning how to determine, when in a relationship, intimate/sexual actions are right and when they are not. Many have reported being sexually involved on first dates. This makes it harder to truly understand if there is potential for a positive relationship because immediate sexual involvement can make the relationship appear more positive than it actually is. All this learning can help prepare you for the joys and challenges of long-term adult relationships.
Enjoying shared activities and interests can be quite pleasurable. There can also be learning new activities and broadening perspectives. In most cases, the positives of dating outweigh the risks and challenges of dating. Any risks and challenges can be mitigated by good decision making which may include dealing with peer pressure, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and relationship termination.
Discuss their own dating experiences and what they learned from them.
Encourage their children to see dating as a “relationship school” and to embrace the learning.
Don’t overschedule your children so they can have time to date.
Teens and young adults should:
Understand that the positives outweigh the negatives of dating.
Realize the more dating experience you have, the more positive your relationships will be over time.
Recognize that learning what works and doesn’t work in dating is essential to the success of future long-term relationships.
Do not be afraid of dating mistakes because those are the best learning opportunities.
Expect that most early dating relationships will end and learning how to deal with that is crucial.
Michael D. Zito, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (#3599) with offices in Warren and Morristown. He practices clinical and sport psychology with children through adults and can be reached at MichaelZitoPhD@yahoo.com Dr. Zito welcomes your questions and ideas for future articles.