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Healthy Dating Relationships in Adolescence

Healthy relationships in adolescence can help shape a young person's identity1 and prepare teens for more positive relationships during adulthood.1-3 Providing adolescents with tools to start and maintain healthy relationships (with romantic partners as well as peers, employers, teachers, and parents) may have a positive influence on young people's overall development. 

The Role of Healthy Romantic and Dating Relationships

Frequency of adolescent dating. Young people tend to become more interested in dating around their mid-teens and become more involved in dating relationships during high school. Although dating does increase during this time, it is also normal for adolescents not to be in a relationship. Nearly two-thirds of teens (ages 13-17) have not been in a dating or romantic relationship. Thirty-five percent of teens (ages 13-17) have some experience with romantic relationships, and 19 percent are currently in a relationship. Older teens (ages 15-17) are more likely than younger teens to have experience with romantic relationships.4

Adolescents date less now than they did in the past. This change is most striking for 12th-grade students, where the percentage of youth who did not date increased from 14 percent in 1991 to 38 percent in 2013. Adolescent sexual activity also has decreased from previous decades.5 The percentage of U.S. high school students who had ever had sex decreased from 54 percent in 1992 to 40 percent in 2017.6

Benefits of healthy dating relationships. Knowing how to establish and maintain healthy romantic relationships can help adolescents grow. Healthy dating during the teenage years can be an important way to develop social skills, learn about other people, and grow emotionally. These relationships also can play a role in supporting youth's ability to develop positive relationships in other areas including: in school, with employers, and with partners during adulthood. 

Both male and female youth value intimacy, closeness, and emotional investment in romantic relationships.7 These relationships can be accompanied by extreme excitement and happiness, but also by disappointment and sadness. However, some youth might go beyond the normal range of emotions and may experience depression. Learn more about mental health including warning signs and how to find treatment.  

Meeting partners online. Despite media attention, few teens meet their romantic partners online. In 2015, only 8 percent of all teenagers had met a romantic partner online. Of course, many teens have never dated anyone, but among those with dating experience, 24 percent dated or hooked up with someone they first met online. Among this 24 percent, half of the teens had met just one romantic partner online, while the other half had met more than one partner online.4


1 Wildsmith, E., Barry, M., Manlove, J., & Vaughn, B. (2013). Dating and sexual relationships. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2013-04DatingSexualRelationships.pdf
2 Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 631-652.
3 Karney, B. R., Beckett, M. K., Collins, R. L., & Shaw, R. (2007). Adolescent romantic relationships as precursors of healthy adult marriages: A review of theory, research, and programs (Vol. 488). Arlington, VA: Rand Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2007/RAND_TR488.pdf
4 Lenhart, A., Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2015). Teens, technology and romantic relationships. Washington, D.C: Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/10/PI_2015-10-01_teens-technology-romance_FINAL.pdf
5 Child Trends Databank. (2015). Dating. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=dating
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(8). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf
7 Giordano, P. C., Longmore, M. A., & Manning, W. D. (2006). Gender and the meanings of adolescent romantic relationships: A focus on boys. American Sociological Review, 71(2), 260-287.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on March 25, 2019