A recent study looked at the status of teen relationships, and even the teens have problems defining them. The teen years have been an historical training ground of socialization for future relationships, The teen’s stage in the dating scheme has become ambiguous and confusing. Boundaries and behaviors that have defined the stages are unclear. There are variations in teen relationships such as “talking,” “have a thing,” “hooking up,” “going with,” and “dating,” differing by age and gender. For example, what does “dating” mean? Is it the same for middle schoolers and high schoolers, boys and girls? “Dating” generally means the couple goes places together in a committed relationship. But “hooking up” changes meaning from middle school to high school, from getting together in middle school to having sex or a quick infatuation in high school. Nonetheless, these terms of relationship status actually describe a continuum on levels of exclusivity that the teens in the study agreed on.
Further, the parent’s framework of teen relationships do not mesh with current trends, due to their own meaning and experience. For example, parents in the study minimized the importance of “dating” and used their own definition of dating to understand the interactions of their teens in relationships today, creating dissonance. They repeatedly shared a lack of understanding and reluctance to acknowledge their teen’s early relationships. They didn’t know how to define their teen’s relationship or the corresponding term to use, which was a concern for these parents.
What can parents do?
- Learn the language. What terms are their teens using? What do those terms mean?
- Talk to your teen about the importance of their relationship in their life. How is it balanced with other school and family activities?
- Teach your child signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Rowley, R. L, & Hertzog, J. L. (2016). From holding hands to having a thing to hooking up: Framing heterosexual youth relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 52:6, 548-562.