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Dating In Middle School Increases Risk Of Dropping Out And Drug Use

Mar 18, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

A study by researchers at the University of Georgia has determined a link between dating and poor academic achievement and increased risk of drug use in middle school students.

The finding show that students who date in middle school are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana than classmates who do not date.

A group of 624 sixth grade students were studied over a seven-year period until the end of grade 12. Each year the students completed a survey of whether they had dated and reported on a range of different behaviors, including the use of drugs and alcohol.

The students' teachers completed questionnaires about their student's academic efforts, which included analysis of drop-out rates and teachers' assessment of student's study skills.

The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study  included students from a sampling of six school districts in northeast Georgia.

"In our study, we found four distinct trajectories," said study author Pamela Orpinas in a statement on the University of Georgia's website. "Some students never or hardly ever reported dating from middle to high school, and these students had consistently the best study skills according to their teachers. Other students dated infrequently in middle school but increased the frequency of dating in high school. We also saw a large number of students who reported dating since sixth grade."

The study identified students with "low" and "increasing" levels of dating as well as "high middle school" and "frequent." The latter two trajectories had the highest instances of dating had the worst study skills and were four times more likely to drop out of school, and reported twice as much alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use than students in the low and increasing dating groups, the study found.

"At all points in time, teachers rated the students who reported the lowest frequency of dating as having the best study skills and the students with the highest dating as having the worst study skills," according to the journal article.

Study skills include behaviors that lead to academic success such as working hard, completing assignments, being well organized and completing extra-credit assignments.

"A likely explanation for the worse educational performance of early daters is that these adolescents start dating early as part of an overall pattern of high-risk behaviors," Orpinas said.

Orpinas said that a likely explanation of the comparatively poor educational performance of early daters is that the adolescents' early dating is part of an overall pattern of high-risk behavior. The students who began dating early were also found twice more likely to use drugs than their peers in the study.

"Dating a classmate may have the same emotional complications of dating a co-worker," Orpinas said. "When the couple splits, they have to continue to see each other in class and perhaps witness the ex-partner dating someone else. It is reasonable to think this scenario could be linked to depression and divert attention from studying."

More research is needed to determine and identify characteristics that distinguish dating as part of a healthy developmental process from dating as part of a behavior syndrome, the study stated.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

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