If you wrote down all of the reasons why high school years are awkward, dating would be at or near the top of the list for most of us. Dating can encompass all of a teen’s worst fears, from being rejected to doing something embarrassing that everyone will be talking about at school the next day to being dumped after liking someone.

I think dating at any age can be stressful and take a toll on a person’s self-confidence. However, with teens who are just beginning to come to grips with their identifies and dealing with peer pressure on a daily basis, the newness of dating can be extra challenging. Real life is not like Danny and Sandy’s high school relationship in “Grease.”

For decades, the prevailing notion has been that dating during the teen years helps young people develop social skills and build their self-identity. Fairly or unfairly, there was also a perception that the popular and more mature kids dated while those who didn’t were, for lack of a better term, nerds or misfits.

New research from the University of Georgia, which was published in a study in Journal of School Health, found some surprising insights about teen dating that dispels common misconceptions. “Adolescents who were not in a romantic relationship had good social skills and low depression, and fared better or equal to peers who dated. These results refute the notion that non‐daters are maladjusted,” the study found.

Teens who don’t date have similar or better interpersonal skills than their dating peers, according to the study. In addition, teachers rated non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than those who date. The proportion of students who said they were sad or hopeless was also significantly lower among non-daters in the study.

“The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age, or middle adolescence,” said Brooke Douglas, lead author of the study, in a news release. “This high frequency has led some researchers to suggest that dating during teenage years is a normative behavior. That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development.”

The study concluded that teens who don’t date have just as healthy development as those who do. I suspect this news is a relief to non-dating teens and their parents who may be worried that staying home on a Friday or Saturday night puts them at some type of disadvantage.

Hopefully students will be comforted to know that of all the issues to worry about in high school, falling behind on social skills or slipping into depression because they’re not dating or having a teen romance won’t have to be at the top of the list.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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