Steady versus Multiple Dating

Dating relationships range from informal casual dating to involved, steady relationships. Steady dating is more common among older adolescents, with 30 percent of males and 40 percent of females between the ages of sixteen and eighteen indicating that they are going steady. Many argue it is not advisable to allow adolescents younger than fifteen to date intensively, as it appears to have a negative effect on interpersonal development; dating may limit their interactions with others and lead to social immaturity. Debra Haffner, in her book From Diapers to Dating, argues that middle-school children should not be permitted to date someone more than two years older than themselves, as research indicates young teens who date older teens are more likely to become involved in high-risk behaviors. In addition, involvement in dating too early and too intensely may impede opportunities for same-sex relationships and casual opposite-sex relationships, both of which enhance the development of intimacy at later ages.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both steady and multiple dating (going out with more than one person). While the most serious long-term disadvantage of going steady appears to be early marriage, dating a single person on a steady basis can provide a sense of security for the adolescent and meet emotional and social needs. In addition to feeling popular, adolescents who date steadily tend to be those who report the highest self-esteem. Nevertheless, adolescents who have clear educational and/or vocational goals tend to go steady less often, and females who have higher levels of self-esteem tend to date frequently, but are less likely to go steady. Finally, multiple dating often involves the adolescent in more superficial relationships and provides fewer opportunities to develop the interpersonal skills that are involved in getting to know one person well.

Consequently, a moderate degree of dating with more serious involvement delayed until late adolescence may be the optimal balance. Haffner recommended that parents set limits for children regarding dating by deciding when, if, and under what circumstances the child may date and then supervising and monitoring dating behavior. She advised parents to talk with their children when they come home from group or single dates, ask open-ended questions, and listen without judging. Most importantly, she argued, parents must take their children's feelings seriously.

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