Parents are often worried about their teens’ involvement in dating relationships and sexual activity. Given the potential consequences and risks, their concerns are perfectly understandable. At the same time, parents need to be aware that preaching restraint and hoping that kids will not fall in love and become sexually active until marriage, is naive at best and dangerous at worst. Teens need our guidance and support even when they behave in ways we do not approve of. While a great deal of research looks at the negative consequences of teen dating and sexual activity, researchers from the University of California-Davis have been looking into the positive aspects of teen romance.
Researchers Bill McCarthy and Teresa Casey studied data collected in 1994 from approximately 20,000 students in grades 7 to 12. They also reviewed data from follow-up interviews in 1996. What they found was that, for kids that had already been involved with the law, romantic love had a deterrent effect. The researchers hypothesized that romantic love strengthens social bonds that discourage offending. According to McCarthy & Casey, romantic love “discourages crime by reminding people to consider the reactions of those to whom they are attached when contemplating a crime”.
McCarthy and Casey also looked at teen sex and crime. While previous research had shown a positive association between the two, McCarthy and Casey discovered that it depends on whether or not sex takes place within a romantic relationship. That is, they found that sexual intercourse in the context of a romantic relationship eliminates the oft-cited association between teen sexual activity and crime. However, as seen in past research, teens in non-romantic sexual relationships had higher rates of criminal activity.
These results were consistent with 2006 research by Corey Keyes that showed that adolescents who had strong attachments to others had decreased levels of depression, conduct disorder and drug use.
While McCarthy and Casey focused on the positive effects of teen romance, their research underscores the positive impact of attachment and close relationship in general. Close relationships can take many forms including romantic ties, friendships, and parent-child bonds. In all forms, connections should be seen as a protective factor for your children.
If you would like to read the full text article by Bill McCarthy and Teresa Casey their research was published in the December 2008 edition of the American Sociological Review.
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