Kids are maturing earlier physically and sexually according to a leading child psychologist.
Jye and Sarah, both 15, have been dating for a few months now. The young couple, from a Central Coast high school, go out regularly and aren’t too shy to kiss in public.
Jye’s mother Linda believes “they are way too young for this kind of boyfriend and girlfriend thing”.
“I’ve seen hickeys on my son’s neck and I yelled at him for it,” says Linda. “I don’t let them in his bedroom without the door open.” Linda’s other son is 12 and also has a girlfriend. “They’re almost as serious as Jye and Sarah,” she says.
“They tell each other they’re going to love each other forever and they hold hands at school.”
Teenagers are starting to date at a younger age and getting serious sooner, says Dr John Irvine, a leading child psychologist. He says it isn’t just the casual hangout at school anymore; teenagers in some cases are acting like married couples.
Is this damaging their childhood or is it just making them mature sooner? Why is the dating age becoming so young, and how are these kids keeping their relationships going for such a long time?
According to Johnson Research, run by Johnson & Johnson, young teenagers are more likely to pair off these days than decades past, when boys and girls were more nervous around each other.
The research shows social networks have made it easier for teens to communicate with each other away from school. There are fewer inhibitions over the web than in the milk bar or a similar hangout.
Dr Irvine says: “I’m astounded couples are pairing off at an earlier age and sustaining their relationship for some months. Social media has probably done a lot to reduce their hang-ups and increase the availability.”
And rather than damaging their childhood, these young relationships can be a calming influence, he says.
“It can be a real stabilising thing for them,” Dr Irvine says.
However, as teenagers are constantly changing physically and emotionally, a partner’s affection can’t be expected to stay the same. Dr Irvine is surprised by the commitment shown by these 13- and 14-year-old couples. As a result, break-ups that in the past would have been shrugged off can these days cause severe distress and result in abuse when the other partner decides to move on. In the past teenagers tended to hang onto their parents but now they seem to hang onto their boyfriend or girlfriend.
What’s more, social media has complicated the break-up process: it is too easy for the dropped partner to see what their ex partner is doing. This may be the reason there are more cases of anxiety.
Dr Irvine said: “I’ve seen a lot more anxiety and insecurity problems in young people than in previous years, as they use to have the group of friends to give them security but now they’re exposed and they’ve only got the partner. It is all very rattling for them.”
How young is too young? In 10 years time are 10-year-olds going to be dating and running away together. I hope not. – Kimberley Braddish
Top photo from of-mice-to-remember’s Tumblr.