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Students who date in middle school have significantly worse study skills, are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates, according to a UGA study.

Pamela Orpinas, a professor in the College of Public Health and head of the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior, followed a group of 624 students over a seven-year period from sixth to 12th grade. Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviors, including the use of drugs and alcohol. Their teachers completed questionnaires about the students’ academic efforts. The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study included schools from six districts in northeast Georgia. Investigators used two indicators of students’ school success: high school dropout rates and yearly teacher-rated study skills.

“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,” says Orpinas. “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.”

Of the early daters, a large portion of the study group—38 percent—reported dating at almost all measurement points throughout the study. The second at-risk segment, identified as “high middle school dating,” represented 22 percent of the sample. One hundred percent of these students dated in sixth grade.

At all points in time, students who reported the lowest frequency of dating had the best study skills and the students with the highest frequency of dating had the worst study skills. Study skills refer to behaviors that lead to academic success such as doing work for extra credit, being well organized, finishing homework, working hard and reading assigned chapters. Children in these early dating groups were also twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs.

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

Get more at onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jora.12029/abstract.