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Teen dating refers to interpersonal relations between two adolescents who may be of a different or the same gender. Today's teens do not date in the traditional way their parents and grandparents did. In the past, a boy usually asked a girl to go on a date with him (and she often waited by the phone for him to do so). Then, he drove to her house and met her parents. After this, the couple often headed to dinner and a movie.

Teen dating today often relies on technology. Many teens use social networking and teen-dating websites to search for dates—a trend called cyber-dating . They are also more likely to pair off while in groups than to date in the traditional sense. "Hooking up," having a casual sexual encounter without a commitment, is popular among older teens today, and girls are just as likely to initiate hookups as boys. While experts believe that hooking up is now more prevalent than traditional dating, some older teens still value long-term, exclusive relationships. Such relationships teach teens important life lessons and help them determine the kind of long-term relationship they would like to have as an adult.

How Teen Dating Begins

The age at which teens begin dating depends on an individual's maturity level, hormones, and desire to date—and sometimes parents' permission. Peer pressure is also a factor. Most teens begin dating between the ages of twelve and fourteen. This early dating usually occurs while teens are out together in groups when those who are attracted to one another "pair off." Being with a group helps teens avoid the awkwardness they might feel if alone on a date. Teens mainly form these early relationships to have fun and impress peers. These relationships do not usually last long; most end after a few months. These first encounters are essentially practice for the mature relationships teens will experience a few years later.

A small number of young teens will engage in intimate, exclusive relationships. Some experts consider such relationships a learning experience that helps teens discover their individuality. However, most consider these relationships problematic because young teens have not yet formed a strong sense of identity—they cannot effectively share themselves with others because they do not yet know themselves well. Research indicates that becoming intimately involved at such a young age also puts teens at risk of poor academic performance, drug use, depression, and teen pregnancies.

Fortunately, most teens do not become involved in serious relationships until they are sixteen or older. By this time, teens are better prepared to handle the complexities of an intimate relationship. Older teens seek companionship, affection, and intimacy, as well as social support from an exclusive relationship. Serious older-teen relationships may last several years.

Cyber-Dating

More and more teens today are using the Internet to find romance. Cyber-dating, or searching for a romantic partner online, became popular in the early 2000s and is now common among teens as well as adults. Shy teens may find communicating with a potential partner online easier. They may feel more confident meeting an individual face to face after they have spent time getting to know him or her online first. Connecting with peers online also helps teens increase their dating pool and meet others with similar interests, such as music or sports.

Teens may connect with other teens on social networking sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, where they can post messages and pictures. Today's teens make dozens of friends and find potential dates on such sites.

Teens may also join numerous teen-dating sites to look for potential partners. These sites include MyLOL, Flirtbox, and Chatpit. Most of these sites work in a similar way—teens register, create a profile, and search profiles of others of the same age who share similar interests.

Teens who spend time online need to be aware of Internet predators, which are adults who pretend to be teenagers. These individuals create fake profiles on social networking sites and teen-dating sites and interact with teens in chat rooms. Internet predators attempt to gain a teen's trust so the teen will agree to a face-to-face meeting. These predators are often sexual offenders, and teens risk physical and sexual assault if they meet them in person. For these reasons, some experts contend that teen cyber-dating is a bad idea, especially for younger teens because they lack mature decision-making skills. Teens of all ages should never post personal information such as addresses and cell phone numbers online.

"Hooking Up"

Many older teens today say they do not date—they "hook up" instead. Hooking up is a phrase used to describe casual relationships that lack commitment. Hooking up is not a new phrase—it has been used for about fifty years—but its meaning has changed. It used to refer to simply meeting someone, perhaps for lunch, or a one-night stand. Today, however, hooking up with someone can refer to anything from kissing to intercourse with a person who may be a friend or stranger. It is a noncommittal, casual sexual encounter.

Experts theorize why hooking up is so attractive to teens. One theory is that people today marry much later in life. With marriage so many years ahead of them, teens may not see the value in trying to maintain a committed relationship. Another is that today's teens are more accustomed to impersonal relationships than those of generations past. Modern teens have grown up watching people have casual relationships on television and in movies. Perhaps more importantly, today's teens maintain many of their own impersonal relationships. They communicate with others via text and the Internet. Because of this, they are comfortable—and perhaps even more comfortable—with brief, uncommitted encounters.

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