There are so many movies set around high school romances. Grease, High School Musical, Camp Rock, 17 Again, Pretty in Pink, Easy A, She’s All That, basically every movie with Freddie Prinze Jr. made my heart throb when I was a teen.
High school relationships are a rite of passage. That first crush, that first kiss, that first real boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s the stuff of rom-coms! And it’s also an integral part of growing up. As parents, we might dread it, but we’re also expecting it.
But there’s a strange phenomenon happening around here. Many girls these days don’t seem to be pursuing high school relationships.
And I don’t think it’s because they’re not interested in romance.
So, Why Aren’t Girls Dating Nowadays?
The progression from “liking” someone to dating has changed since devices and social media came on the scene. Flirting takes place via text or social media and escalates from there. This leads young people to feel connected despite rarely spending any actual time together! And even more scary, oftentimes the next step after texting is “hooking up.” That whole getting to know each other on a series of dates has gone out the window. And a boy picking up a girl and making awkward conversation with her parents? Practically gone.
A 2015 study by Child Trends Databank1 reveals that 12th graders who say they do not date rose from 14% in 1991 to 38% in 2013 (sorry folks no more recent data on this). Likewise, 10th graders who report that they don’t date rose from 28% to 44% in the same time span. This change has been gradual, but the influence of smartphones and digital media is clear — in a study by Pew Research Center2 44% of teens say social media helps them feel emotionally closer to their significant other.
But the progression of dating isn’t the only thing that has changed. Many teens report not wanting to date. So what’s going on there? I’m concerned that pre-teen and teen girls aren’t going after that special someone because they’re worried about social and social media pressures. I feel like they’re pushing their crushes aside because they think they’ll be ridiculed for making their feelings known, pursuing someone or looking too clingy. Simply put, they don’t want to be made fun of.
Yes, this fear of being ridiculed or worrying about if he/she likes you back goes back centuries, but in today’s world where we spend so much distracting ourselves with “things” and “busyness,” it’s an even stronger phenomenon. Our kids are not learning the skill of pushing through good ol’ fashioned awkward face-to-face conversations, disappointment or ridicule.
I’m also worried that social media and peer pressure are putting too much emphasis on looking cool and being perfect. And this is causing our girls to worry even more about getting turned down or looking silly if the guy doesn’t like them back. Or worse, how it’ll look to everybody else if the relationship doesn’t work out like they planned.
What happens if it all gets broadcast – like every other little detail of their lives – on the big screen; via social media?
Don’t get me wrong. Having a daughter that doesn’t want to date in high school to some may seem like a parent’s dream. And if your girl truly isn’t interested in boys (or girls) or dating, then that’s a-ok! But I have a feeling there are other reasons behind the sparse teenage dating scene.
Why This Isn’t a Good Thing…
Many girls fear they’ll be judged or that they’ll look foolish, and so they just push down their feelings and continue posting those perfect selfies instead.
But we want our girls to learn that it’s OKAY if he/she doesn’t like you back. That it’s okay to get rejected. That it’s okay to just go for it! That it’s okay to look awkward in front of your friends. Because trying and failing is better than not trying at all. And we learn far more from failure than success.
What’s the Shakspeare line? Tis better to have loved and lost…
One downside of not dating in high school is that our girls will then go into college with no relationship experience. Thus it means they’re less likely to come to us for advice. We won’t get as much of a chance to talk dating and boyfriends or girlfriends with them once they’re out on their own. And who knows… maybe this need to avoid intimacy will follow them through the University years too.
Why High School Relationships Matter
While they’re in high school, girls can start learning what makes a good match and a healthy relationship. They’ll start seeing what kinds of people they’re compatible with and how they feel and act as part of a couple. They get to explore the unique dynamic of being in a romantic relationship, learning about things like trust, compassion, jealousy, supportiveness, and balance.
And at least in high school, we’ll be there for them if they have questions, concerns, or if things fall through. We’re an easy source of information, counsel and a shoulder to cry on.
From dropping them off at the movies to picking out presents for significant others, we can help them with the fun stuff about having a significant other. And when it comes to more serious things like sex and break-ups, it’s even more important that we’re there for guidance and support. Because after high school, they may not come to us as much for this kind of stuff though I hope that I am wrong!
The casual high school romance is important to our girls for a lot of reasons: for them to gain relationship experience, to learn about things like trust and compatibility, to gain confidence in approaching someone they’re interested in. But also for our girls to get out there and put their hearts on the line occasionally!
They should learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and take risks.
They should learn to say “Who cares what people think?” sometimes.
And they shouldn’t be afraid to look foolish for going after something (or someone) they want!
Hey, Freddie Prinze Jr. is waiting!
Spark the Conversation: Ask your daughter if she feels embarrassed to admit to others if she “likes” someone for fear of them not liking her back or looking silly. Discuss with your daughter the importance of sometimes letting your heart and emotions lead you and shutting off your brain for a bit. And remind her that nobody really cares as much about your small guffaws as you think they do.
1Child Trends: https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/dating/
2Pew Research Center: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/01/teens-technology-and-romantic-relationships/