Young adolescents who begin dating at an early age do worse at school as well as being more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, a study has revealed.
Researchers from the University of Georgia found that over seven years – from age eleven to leaving school – those who dated least did best academically.
Prof Pamela Orpinas said one of the reasons for those who date youngest performing worst with school work could be because it is an early indicator of high risk behaviour.
Research: Young adolescents who date earliest do worst at school and are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, a study has revealed. This is a file picture
Writing in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, she said: ‘Romantic relationships are a hallmark of adolescence, but very few studies have examined how adolescents differ in the development of these relationships.’
She followed 624 students in the U.S. from sixth grade – aged eleven or twelve – to the end of high school, at eighteen.
Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviours, including the use of drugs and alcohol.
Prof Orpinas said: ‘In our study, we found four distinct trajectories.
‘Some students never or hardly ever reported dating from middle to high school, and these students had consistently the best study skills according to their teachers.
‘Other students dated infrequently in middle school but increased the frequency of dating in high school. We also saw a large number of students who reported dating since sixth grade.’
Of the early daters, a large portion of the study group – 38 per cent – reported dating at almost all measurement points throughout the study.
Prof Orpinas said: ‘At all points in time, teachers rated the students who reported the lowest frequency of dating as having the best study skills and the students with the highest dating as having the worst study skills.
‘A likely explanation for the worse educational performance of early daters is that these adolescents start dating early as part of an overall pattern of high-risk behaviours.’
She pointed out that children in these early dating groups were also twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs.
She said: ‘Dating a classmate may have the same emotional complications of dating a co-worker.
‘When the couple splits, they have to continue to see each other in class and perhaps witness the ex-partner dating someone else. It is reasonable to think this scenario could be linked to depression and divert attention from studying.’