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Adolescent romantic partners can impact adjustment to adulthood, Wayne State University researcher says

February 11, 2013

DETROIT — Although adolescents’ romantic relationships may not stand the test of time, the person they’d most like to spend this Valentine’s Day with may make a difference later in their lives.

Valerie Simon, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, has found that the combination of adolescent and partner characteristics predicts how early dating experiences are related to adolescents’ adjustment.

Simon’s work focuses on myriad factors that affect adolescents’ romantic and sexual development. Her research indicates that levels of cigarette smoking, alcohol use and behavior problems in poorly adjusted sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who dated poorly adjusted partners remained about the same, while high-functioning partners appeared to mitigate the problems of poorly adjusted subjects.

While similar processes have been demonstrated within friend pairings and peer groups, Simon said her team’s findings are among the first to demonstrate the unique selection and socialization effects in adolescents’ romantic relationships.

“Moreover, it is the combination of adolescent and partner characteristics that appears to predict how early dating experiences shape adolescent adjustment,” she said.

She also believes that while the influence of romantic partners appears distinct from that of best friends, the two relationships often coexist within the same social network with interactive effects on adolescent adjustment. However, she said, whom adolescents date is vital to understanding the influence of romantic relationships on their adjustment.

“Adolescents’ romantic relationship experiences are consequential during adolescence and have the potential to affect adult relationships and well-being,” Simon said. “They are associated with a diverse range of psychosocial and health outcomes during adolescence and beyond.”

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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