THE TEENS TALK
When thousands of representative high school students were asked the question, “At what age do you think teen-agers should have their first date?” 41 per cent answered thirteen to fourteen, and 46 per cent said fifteen to sixteen. Such replies indicate that most students feel that the first date should occur in the middle or early teens. It also suggests that many teen-agers appear to date earlier than they really think they should. Why? Who is it that starts dating earliest?
The Early Bird
The PurdueUniversity survey found that high school students living in the western part of the United States start dating at earlier ages than do southern young people (47 per cent of those in the West as compared with 34 per cent of the southerners). Even more interesting is the finding that young people from the higher socioeconomic groups start dating at younger ages than do those from either the middle-income or the lower-income groups.
WHY SOME DATE EARLIER THAN OTHERS
There are interlocking reasons why some teen-agers start having dates at earlier ages than do others. Such factors as these are all interrelated: (1) how their parents feel about early dating; (2) how ready the boy or girl is for dating; (3) how much social experience a young person has had; and (4) how many social opportunities there are open to a given age and social set.
The Folks at Home
Parents who are socially active themselves tend to encourage their sons and daughters to participate in social events from early ages. They arrange mixed parties for their children, send them to dancing classes, buy them the proper clothes for various occasions, and in every way they can, urge them into social situations. The Purdue Poll finding that dating starts earlier in higher socioeconomic groups is understandable. Young people whose parents are socially active have the opportunity to socialize freely from childhood onward. They are acquainted with the children of their parents’ friends long before they reach their teens. They are involved with neighbors, church, and community activities.
Their parents expect this—they urge their children into the social life of the community so that they will eventually take then-place in their social circles.
Ambitious middle-class parents more often want their sons and daughters to pay attention to school work and vocational goals before they get distracted by dating. Families with a different socioeconomic background and outlook, on the other hand, expect their children to get jobs as soon as they can and help out at home even before school graduation.
So it is easy to see how such widely different dating habits exist. Some teen-agers are pressured into dates early by then-families, and others are pressured by parents into postponing dates as long as possible.
At Your Own Pace
Of course, some teen-agers are ready for dates before others are. They simply mature earlier. The boy who shoots up tall and manly in his early teens is ready for dates before the “shorty” in his class. The girl who develops early so that she fills a strapless evening gown gracefully is datable at a time when her schoolmates are still looking and behaving like little girls.
The late-maturing boy or girl is just not as interested in the other sex and consequently not as interesting as a dating partner either. But the time will come when the slower- developing youngsters of both sexes catch up. Such a “late-bloomer” should be reassured that there is nothing wrong with maturing late. In fact, there are advantages. The girl who doesn’t go “boy-crazy” has opportunities to develop lasting intellectual and cultural interests, to make close friends among other girls, to excel in some skill or art. Certainly the late-maturing youngster need not feel “queer.” For a boy, this “breathing spell” between childhood and manhood is an opportunity to get a good start on vocational training, to develop meaningful hobbies, and even to enjoy his family more than is possible for the precocious lad who spends so much of his time and energy on dates. Even so, the late-maturing girl or boy may feel out of things for a while simply because he or she is not personally ready for dates yet.