Every couple is bound to encounter problems sooner or later. Adults who cope with these bumps well may stay together longer, but, as is often the case, teens don’t follow the adult crowd.

In fact, resolving arguments isn’t a major priority for young couples, according to research from the Behavioural Science Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Teen Dating Habits

Thao Ha and colleagues at Radboud examined the dating habits of 80 heterosexual couples between ages of 13 and 18 over a period of several years. Participants completed online questionnaires apart from their partners, and later participated in videotaped observation sessions in which they were asked to complete a set of tasks as a couple. 

Researchers found that teenage relationships are vastly different from those of young adults and married couples. Strong evidence suggests that, for adults, quality conflict resolution leads to a longer, healthier relationship.

“The results from this prospective study of adolescent couples suggest that conflict resolution and conflict recovery are not related to adolescents’ romantic relationship break-ups,” the study states. “Adolescents who were capable of either resolving or recovering from conflict were not more likely to stay together over time.”

Since teen relationships don’t follow the pattern of adult relationships, what causes teen break-ups? One important observation researchers made is that teens in relationships have fewer arguments than adult couples and that conflict resolution doesn’t necessarily define successful teenage dating.

Instead, teenagers’ relationships tend to revolve around recreational activities couples do together, and can also provide (and depend on) companionship, peer approval, intimacy, love, and physical attraction.

Relationships are an important element of this stage of child development, and positive or negative relationship outcomes can impact teens' mental health.

“These results indicate that teenagers’ romantic relationships are a unique phase in development in which relationship processes that have been found to be of key importance in later periods of life are not valid,” the study concluded. “Romantic dissolutions can be a huge personal loss for teenagers, fueling feelings of despair and depressive moods.”

The Dutch study was published today in the journal PLOS One.

The Impact of Love on a Young Mind

A person’s first relationship is an important step in his or her development. It can, however, be a difficult road to navigate for a teen already coping with social and hormonal changes. 

Researchers at the University of California, Davis’s Sleep Lab have been investigating just how the pubescent brain develops, and they've found that most synaptic pruning—how the brain decides what’s important and what isn’t—occurs between the ages of 12 and 16½, the age at which teens typically start dating. 

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Georgia also found that people who begin dating young may be four times more likely to drop out of school and twice as likely to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. There are many possible explanations for this association, but researchers concluded that “dating should not be considered a rite of passage in middle school.” 

Even in friendships, teens need to develop a certain amount of autonomy in order to make decisions independent of their friends. Those who do, according to research from the University of Virginia, tend to fare better and to avoid social problems later in life.

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