The Problems Associated With Tween Dating

What you should if your tween begins dating

Teen girl and boy working on homework together
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The effects of preteen dating have not been well studied, largely because "dating" before 13 used to mean only going on group dates or "going out" without really going anywhere. These days, though, tweens are acting more and more like teenagers, making one-on-one tween dating more common. Here's what research tells us about the negative effects of one-on-one teenage dating; these findings may give parents insight into what tweens face when dating, and how parents can help and guide them through the dating years.

Most child development experts agree that the earlier dating begins, the more harmful it may be, so parents should do what they can, within reason, to postpone dating and encourage tweens to find fun and fulfillment through extracurricular activities, interests and friendships.

Tween Dating May Increase Depression and Moodiness

Getting through puberty is tough enough, and dating can make it even harder. Adolescents in romantic relationships tend to have more mood issues than single adolescents. First, mood swings tend to be more severe for tweens and teens in relationships than their peers. Secondly, symptoms of depression are more common among dating adolescents than among those who are not dating. Depressive symptoms are especially likely to occur surrounding break-ups. In fact, among adolescents who develop major depressive disorder, a break-up is the most common event that sets off the disorder.

Tween Dating May Create Conflicts

Most parents know that the adolescent years can be years of conflict, and dating can make it even worse. Adolescents in romantic relationships report having more conflict in their lives than do their single peers. These conflicts occur both within the relationship and surrounding the relationship.

Adolescents often have disagreements with parents over their dating behaviors. Friends may also become upset about the amount of time that is being spent with a significant other.

Preteen Dating May Lead to Decreased Time with Friends

When tweens and teens become involved in romantic relationships, they often neglect their friendships. It has been found that as adolescents become more involved in dating, they become less involved with friends, trading off time with one for the other. In fact, 70% of adolescent girls in relationships spend less time with their best friend than with their boyfriend. Adolescents who are dating may miss out on key social and emotional development that takes place in the context of same-sex and non-romantic relationships

Tween Dating Increases the Likelihood of Being Sexually Active

Perhaps obviously, tweens and teens who are in relationships are much more likely to engage in sexual acts than their single peers. Sexual encounters are especially common among adolescents who are in steady relationships compared to adolescents who are in a series of casual relationships.

It's also more common in adolescents who experience early puberty. Given the increased risk of contracting STIs and/or becoming pregnant, increased sexual activity is no trivial concern. Be sure your tween knows what your expectations are for his or her behavior, and give your child the resources he or she needs to make smart decisions about their bodies.

Preteen Dating May Come Along With Other Problems

Many studies have found that tween and teenage dating are associated with a number of risky behaviors. For one, adolescents in relationships tend to use alcohol more frequently and in larger quantities than their single peers. In fact, it has been found that as kids become more involved in dating, their alcohol use increases simultaneously. Secondly, teenage dating has been associated with delinquent behaviors including stealing, destroying property and cheating. Finally, academic issues tend to be greater among tweens and teens who are in relationships than those who are not. Whether these problem behaviors are caused by dating or simply come alongside teenage dating is still being debated.


Collins, W. Andrew. More than Myth: The Developmental Significance of Romantic Relationships During Adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2003. 13,1: 1-24.

Davies, Patrick T., and Windle, Michael. Middle Adolescents' Dating Pathways and Psychosocial Adjustment. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 2000. 46: 90-118.

Gurian, Anita, Ph.D. Boyfriends, Girlfriends: What Parents Need to Know About Teenage Dating. The NYU Child Study Center. Accessed March 1, 2011:

Zimmer-Gembeck, Melanie J. Stability, Change and Individual Differences in Involvement with Friends and Romantic Partners Among Adolescent Females. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 1999. 28,4: 419-438.

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