Middle-School Romance Leads to Drugs, Booze and Dropping Out

Fast. That's what my mom called it. As in making decisions too fast, moving too fast, growing up too fast. Fast girls had lipstick, heels, boyfriends. And it was clear that you weren't supposed to be like them, and if a part of you sorta kinda wanted to, you kept it to yourself. As new research from the University of Georgia shows, fast girls and boys — students who date in middle school — do not have bright futures ahead of them. In fact, as April Reese Sorrow writes, they have "significantly worse study skills, are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates."

The study, conducted by Pamela Orpinas, professor in the College of Public Health and head of the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior, followed 624 students over a seven-year period from sixth to 12th grade. The students completed surveys, detailing their dating habits and other behaviors, like drinking and using drugs. Surveys were also completed by the students' teachers, who reported on their academic efforts and achievements.

"In our study, we found four distinct trajectories," Orpinas said. "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 percent — reported dating at almost all measurement points throughout the study. The second at-risk segment, identified as "high middle school dating," represented 22 percent of the sample. One hundred percent of these students dated in sixth grade.

"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," according to the journal article.

Children in these early dating groups were also twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs.

In other words, being fast slows you down academically. And it makes sense: When you're focused on boys or girls you're not focused on fractions or grammar. Socializing, partying, texting and emailing seem more important than homework. And that's when things are going well. Orpinas says: "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."

It might be normal for a middle schooler to be interested in or curious about dating, but Orpinas seems to believe it can also be part of problem behavior. In her mind? "Dating should not be considered a rite of passage in middle school." Fast kids need to slow down.

Dating in middle school leads to higher dropout, drug-use rates [UGA Today]

Image via Pavzyuk Svitlana/Shutterstock.