Adolescent Romantic Relationships

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Adolescent Romantic Relationships
by Sarah Sorensen
July 2007
Young people spend a great deal of time thinking about,
talking about, and being in romantic relationships (Furman,
2002), yet adults typically dismiss adolescent dating
relationships as superficial. Young people
do not agree: half of all teens report
having been in a dating relationship and
nearly one-third of all teens said they
have been in a serious relationship
(Teenage Research Unlimited, 2006).
Although most adolescent relationships
last for only a few weeks or months,
these early relationships play a pivotal
role in the lives of adolescents and are
important to developing the capacity for
long-term, committed relationships in
adulthood.
The quality of adolescent romantic
relationships can have long lasting effects
on self-esteem and shape personal
values regarding romance, intimate
relationships, and sexuality (Barber & Eccles, 2003). This article discusses the importance of romantic relationships
to youth and youth development, including the benefits of
healthy relationships, the risks romantic relationships may
pose to adolescents, and the need for adults to support
young people in developing healthy relationships.
Increasing Significance
Romantic relationships become increasingly significant in the lives of young people as they move from early to late
adolescence. Although dating has not yet
begun, in early adolescence (ages 10-14)
most youth are very preoccupied with
romantic issues. Youth at this age spend
significant amounts of time in mixed-gender
groups that intensify their romantic interest
and may eventually lead to romantic
relationships (Connolly, Craig, Goldberg, &
Pepler, 2004). Romantic relationships are
central to social life during middle to late
adolescence (ages 15-19). Three-fourths of
teens age 16-18 report having had a
relationship, dated, or “hooked up” with
someone and half of these youth have had a
serious boyfriend or girlfriend (Teenage
Research Unlimited, 2006). Many youth in
middle to late adolescence report spending
more time with their romantic partner than
with friends and family (Furman & Schaffer, 2003).
Healthy Romantic Relationships
Healthy adolescent romantic relationships are characterized
by open communication, high levels of trust, and partners
who are relatively close in age. Healthy relationships help
Sarah Sorensen wrote this fACT Sheet during her fellowship with University at Albany’s Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the Adolescent Health Unit of the NYS DOH. After completing her fellowship, Sarah will be working in the NYS Assembly.

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youth refine their sense of identity and develop
interpersonal skills, and also provide emotional support.
Identity. One of the key developmental tasks of
adolescence is forming a sense of identity. Young people
are in the process of refining their personal values and
determining future goals. Just like relationships with family and friends, romantic relationships can facilitate the
process of youth gaining a greater understanding of who
they are and what they value.
Interpersonal Skills. Adolescent romantic relationships
can also provide a training ground for youth to develop
interpersonal skills. Through their dating relationships,
adolescents often refine their communication and
negotiation skills, develop empathy, and learn how to
maintain intimate relationships. The emotional ups and
downs associated with getting together and breaking up
may also help youth develop important skills. While
breakups may put some young people at risk for
depression, they may also help youth develop emotional
resiliency and coping skills needed to handle difficulties
later in life (Barber & Eccles, 2003).
Emotional Support. As adolescents become more
autonomous from their parents, their romantic relationships
increasingly become a source of emotional support. One
study found that,...
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