When Did Dating Become a Dirty Word?

By Barbara Greenberg, PhD Teen Parenting Expert

Monday, November 21, 2011

Yes, some words just seem to become dated. Consider the words courting, necking, and petting. Those words are clearly outdated. But when did the word "dating" itself become unspeakable and possibly even archaic to our current generation of teens (and even some 20 or 30-something women!)? Although I don't know exactly when that occurred, I can provide some possible explanations.

First, the current generation of teens is often referred to as the "hook-up" generation. For those of you who need clarity, this refers to physical contact between teens that can range from kissing to intercourse. This mostly happens at parties where the teens are drunk and have a handy excuse for why they may have hooked up with that boy who they never talked to in school either prior to or post-hook-up.  You see, the beauty, if you can call it that, is that these hook-ups come with no relationship strings attached.

There is also another trend that discourages dating and that, my fellow parents, is called "friends with benefits."  Here you can have a meeting of the bodies with a friend without having to get emotionally attached. The girls appear to be just as into these trends as the boys. The girls are aggressors and available. Why date when sexuality is so easily available?

Second, I can't help but believe that electronic technology has something to do with the current state of affairs (no pun intended). Our teens may have a diminished sense of how to handle their feelings in real life since they are connecting in an impersonal way on social media. With constant electronic communication teens may feel a false sense of connection that precludes the need for real-life dating. Also, on their cell phones and laptops they feel more anonymous and take greater risks with sexually provocative comments. Combine the two -- a false sense of emotional connection and sexual disinhibition via social media -- and you have a recipe for hook-ups, break-ups, and no need to complicate things by using labels like dating.

Finally, I can't help but wonder if the way that we are educating our kids about sex is fueling their current relationship/non-relationship behavior. Have we as a group taught our kids about the mechanics of sex, safe sex and contraception, and STDs but forgotten to teach them that emotional and physical intimacy go hand-in-hand?

Yes, these teens get very upset when their hook-ups don't appear to have much regard for them the following day. I don't have a doubt about this. Teens won't necessarily talk about this openly because they want to appear comfortable with their generation's trends, but they talk to me all the time about their hurt feelings. Perhaps we have done our kids a disservice by not teaching them that the body, heart, and the mind work as a team. Your heart doesn't suddenly shut down when you are physically entangled with someone at a party.

Perhaps it is time for us to get with the program and do all we can to help reverse this trend. Please talk to your teens about the connection between physical intimacy and their tender feelings. We certainly don't want to raise a generation of disenchanted adults who have low and limited expectations of what an intimate relationship can be about.