Romantic relationships

By Professor Rachel Skinner
  • Teenage relationships are significant because of the effect they have on wellbeing, and on the kinds of relationships that we go on to have in adulthood. Around half of all teenagers are involved in romantic relationships while they’re still at school.
  • Relationships that are fulfilling, safe and respectful lay the groundwork for healthy romantic relationships in adulthood.
  • Teenage relationships can cause distress. Around 10 percent of young people using mental health helplines are calling because of concerns about romantic relationships.
  • Today’s teenage relationships are carried out online as well as offline. We don’t yet know what sort of impact social media is having on teenage relationships, either positive or negative.

WHAT WE KNOW

Whether or not we are sexually active, more than half of us are involved in romantic relationships while we are teenagers at school. When relationships are positive, they can boost a teenager’s feelings of self-worth, protect them against feelings of social anxiety and give them increased confidence in their growing independence. When they’re not positive, romantic relationships can be stressful, painful and potentially damaging for a teenager’s physical or mental health. 

Teenage relationships may not last a lifetime, but they’re significant because of the effect they have on wellbeing in the Teenage Decade, and on the kinds of relationships that we go on to have in adulthood. Healthy or unhealthy, they help inform our ideas about sexuality and sexual behaviour, and reinforce the attitudes and values we hold around relationships.

Today’s teenage relationships are carried out online as much as offline. Social media platforms provide young people with a space to connect and communicate with their romantic partners. They’re also a space where teenagers can watch relationships unfold among their close friends, and across a vast social media community made up of people they know as well as a selection of high-profile identities, celebrities and influencers. 

At first, young people have relatively little personal experience to draw on when it comes to romantic relationships, so the relationships they are exposed to online have the potential to be influential. We don’t know, yet, what impact social media is having on teenage relationships, but we do know that relationships that are fulfilling, safe and respectful in the Teenage Decade lay the groundwork for healthy romantic relationships in adulthood.
 

WHY IT MATTERS

  • Around 10 percent of young people using mental health helplines are calling because of concerns about romantic relationships. These concerns can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation. We need to ensure that young people’s concerns about romantic relationships are not dismissed, putting their mental and physical health at risk.
  • Teenagers’ romantic relationships have long-term effects on the attitudes, values and expectations they carry into adulthood. We need to support teenagers to have fulfilling, safe and respectful relationships to set the foundations for healthy adult relationships.

 

SOURCES

Professor Rachel Skinner

Rachel Skinner is Professor in Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Sydney, Adolescent P...