NICHOLA PAIS explores why dating at 13 is undesirable
In the course of raving about finding her soul mate in husband Ranveer Singh, newlywed Deepika Padukone let slip a rather jaw-dropping fact: that she had begun dating at the age of 13. She went on to stress that she had never casually dated anyone. “Whether it was one year, two years or three years, they were always proper relationships.” It didn’t help… our mandible had hit the ground nice and hard at the mention of ‘13’.
Isn’t 13 the age for oily-haired schoolgirls and boys to be mooning over the likes of Tiger Shroff or well… Deepika Padukone, for that matter? Evidently, not. The results of a study show that Indian teenagers are beginning to have sex at a far younger age than earlier. The survey based on interviews with 15,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 to 19, in 20 odd cities revealed that the age of first sexual contact was 13.72 for boys and 14.09 for girls. How desirable a ground reality is this?
Dr Chinmay Kulkarni, psychiatrist with Mumbai Psychiatry Clinics is categorical in his disapproval. “Thirteen is too young an age to be dating. I don’t think it is the approximate current age that youngsters date nowadays but we can find that the trend is shifting and the approximate age is shifting towards this age fast.”
Dr Shefali Batra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Cognitive Therapist, founder of MINDFRAMES and CoFounder of InnerHour…, explains, “According to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who defined the various stages of psycho-social development, teenage particularly is a period of identity-formation. We are really trying to identify who we really are, what we are cut out for, our family relationships, friendships, our hobbies, our passions, our education. It’s a period when kids are really getting to know and love themselves, before they realise how or when they have to love somebody else,” she points out. Early onset dating effectively thwarts this crucial process of growth.
Worse, it can cause considerable damage, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse which can occur at this age. “Adolescence is a period when youngsters start giving more importance to peer’s opinions than the opinions of their parents,” maintains Dr Kulkarni. “That is why there is some degree of role confusion in this stage among teenagers. Teenagers also get more influenced by the media which is already hyper sexualised. So many teenagers enter into casual relationships where they may face physical or emotional trauma. One study found that the number of dating partners with whom the individual was sexually active, increased the odds of intimate partner violence during young adulthood. Due to many stereotypes created by media, many teenagers consider aggression to be a normal trait. Some studies found that teenagers tend to perceive controlling and jealous behaviours as signs of love. The traumatic events happening during this period can have long lasting consequences as per as relationships are concerned. One study also found out that casual relationships during adolescence were associated with lower relationship quality during young adulthood. Teenage years in India are also very important as far as education and future career is concerned. There have been cases of teenagers getting into relationships early and facing abuse, cheating, breakups which resulted in their educational prospects slimming. This may cause depressive feelings as well as decreased self esteem.”
Even if not overtly harmful, dating at a younger age leaves teens not able to segregate or compartmentalise the importance of everything. “We cannot dedicate sufficient time to friends, family, study, extracurricular activities, hobbies and our health. We tend to lose out in the process and have strained relationships with our near and dear ones. In that early phase of dating, when you want to spend every waking moment with your partner, you tend to lose out on your friendships. What’s more, you grow up too soon. You get blindsided because if the relationship doesn’t work, it can get you disillusioned and you don’t realise the importance of maintaining long, deep, intense relationships,” adds Dr Shefali.
On the other hand, while youth and impulsiveness could lead a teen to heal faster from a break-up, it could also set a pattern of multiple relationships and casual hook-ups leaving one vulnerable and disillusioned in the long run. What’s more, early onset dating with its emphasis on the physical image, can lead to a teen feeling overly insecure and inadequate after a break-up.
”Realising the sexual aspect, want, desire, pain, amounts to growing up too soon. So what happens to childhood, to playing games, sleepovers and those fun cute things you do as a child? Dating tends to take that all away. We could and should save dating for a later age and time,” concludes Dr Batra.
In hindsight, perhaps Deepika herself would agree.
Don’t disallow; explain
If you think your child is too young to date, openly and honestly explain your reasons and suggest the age you feel it would be okay to date. Counter ‘but everyone is doing it’ arguments by sharing that different parents might have different requirements. Focus on the values and expectations that your own family has for your child.