Dating On A Middle Schooler’s Brain

Mack Haymond, Staff Writer

I won’t try to hide meaning within complicated words. This article is about dating in middle schools. I debated with myself for a rather long time over whether it would be a good idea to write this article. Or, if I had to write it, whether I should put my name on it. I mean, really, how much good could writing about whether middle schoolers should date bring to my reputation? Regardless, I’m here now, having decided that I may as well just write the article. Today, I’ll be going over why middle schoolers tend to want to date starting around the 6th grade, and whether or not they really should start dating then.
If I had to guess, I’d say that middle schoolers don’t exactly think about how dating will affect their lives when they ask someone out. And, they have good reason. The only thing they’re feeling is excitement. However, I’d think again. Pamela Orpinas, a child development researcher at the University of Georgia, recorded some pretty crazy things over a 7-year period, studying a little over 600 kids from sixth to twelfth grade and their dating habits. According to the Journal of Research on Adolescence, published in 2013, and where Orpinas put her findings, kids who dated infrequently and not at all received consistently higher evaluations from teachers than those who dated often, and they reported half as much alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco usage than the students who dated. When I first heard this, I told myself it couldn’t possibly be true, as I’m sure many of you are thinking now. However, the results can’t be changed.
After hearing that BMS health teacher Mr. Don Savage was in the middle of a unit on dating, I interviewed him to get some more context about this study and his viewpoint on middle school dating. “If you’re a kid who wants to get into a relationship, do it for the right reasons,” Mr. Savage says. He told me that middle school dating could be beneficial, but it’s very circumstantial. The first aspect to think about is whether you actually want it. Oftentimes, kids will think that they have to date someone to fit into their friend group. “I remember being your age, and me and my friends would be hanging out, and all of them would have a girlfriend, and I was the only one without a girlfriend. I remember thinking, ‘Where’s a girl that I can date?’ because I wanted to get a girlfriend so I would fit in better.” Thinking that you have to do something to fit in can never be beneficial. Dating because you feel that you have to can only help to further lower the self-esteem of a teen at their most crucial stage of development.

Another big aspect Mr. Savage talked about was being in the right relationship. Dating someone that doesn’t support you and that makes you feel bad can damage self-esteem and your self-image in horrendous ways. Similarly, these same people are oftentimes the ones that cause you to fit into the bad side of Orpinas’ study, distracting you from the real world and pushing you to do things you might not want to, like using alcohol and marijuana. Whereas, dating someone who supports you and helps you rather than distracts you from school can have fantastic mental benefits on middle school teens.

Finally, when asked whether he thought middle schoolers could love each other in a deeper sense, he responded predictably. To sum it up, on some level, yes, we can love each other. “But love is different to middle school kids than it is when they’re older.” With adolescent teens, it’s less of love and more of a very good friendship being labeled love because we don’t know what else to call it. However, we can care about each other on a deeper level, albeit not as deep of an understanding as we can have as we get older. Nonetheless, we call this bond that we have love, and that works for us.

Dating is a touchy subject with middle schoolers. There are so many opinions about what love is to teens, and talking about whether it’s a good thing or not can be hard. However, the consensus I’ve put together from the studies and Mr. Savage is that it depends. You have to feel right about doing it, and who it is you’re dating. Don’t rush into something you’re not ready for. Doing that can harm far more than it’ll help. The dating that we have may be less dating and more really-good-friend-ing, but it’s what we have, and we’re happy with it.