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Hooking Up In High School

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Hooking Up In High School

Dating in the 50’s seemed so simplistic.

Remember the movie Grease? There were the good girls like Sandy and the not-as-good girls like Rizzo. Going out meant going to the movies or to the malt shop. And when Danny wanted Sandy to be his girlfriend, he gave her his letterman jacket to wear.

But teen dating today does not seem quite as simple. A July 2013 article, Sex on Campus; She Can Play That Game, Too in the New York Times about dating on college campuses caused quite a stir amongst parents and teens. The article suggested not only that “hook ups” were more prevalent than formal relationships, but that many women were initiating these hook ups. A somewhat archaeic assumption was that most woman wanted to be in relationships, whereas men pushed for more casual hook ups.

At the middle and high school level, it also seems there is less formal dating. While there are still exclusive couples, for many teens, dating and sexuality has become more casual. Andrew Smiler, PhD and author of, Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality says, “Years ago, there was a more clear structure to teen dating. Sexual behavior followed a ‘baseball’ metaphor and everyone understood what ‘getting to second base’ meant. There was a shared terminology and a certain order of events.”

Smiler continues, “The term ‘hooking up’ used to mean a one night stand or sexual encounter with no emotional connection. Today ‘hooking up’ is used more generically and can mean anything from kissing to ‘going all the way’ to something in between. Parents may think they know what their teen means when they use the term, but really they have no idea because the definition is so varied amongst teens themselves.”

Social Media & Technology

Teens are also very influenced by the media. Maurice Elias, PhD says, “The media put forth many ideas about dating and sexuality. The latter is a pervasive element in so many television shows, movies, music videos, etc.” In many mediums, casual sex without emotions or connection is glorified and gives teens the wrong message about how to handle themselves in relationships.

Further complicating matters are the use of electronics (computers, cell phones, etc.) and social media in the dating process. Technology allows teens to be bolder than they would be in person — making intimate statements or sending risqué photos — because it is easy to do. Teens probably don't realize in the moment that what they are sending can be misconstrued or shared with other teens.

While all of this may make parents shudder and want to lock their teens in their rooms until they are 30, Smiler points out that while much has changed, much has stayed the same. Smiler says, “Most kids say they had their first kiss at age 14 and first sexual experience between 16 and 17. This is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago. The change is in the age people get married, with more people waiting until years after college. Since marriage is so far off on the horizon for most high school students, it is not surprising that some teens question what the purpose of a dating relationship is.”


For parents and teens, the key to developing a healthy attitude about dating and sexuality is communication. Elias says. “Adults must move out of their comfort zone and make the topic of relationships —including dating and sexuality — part of their conversations.” Smiler adds, “Trust, honesty, and an emotional connection is something all teens — male and female — want to have this with someone at some point in their life.”

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