Teen dating can have negative psychiatric results | Sunday Observer
Medi snips:

Teen dating can have negative psychiatric results

15 May, 2022

Teen dating is on the rise. Teenagers going on blind dates, whether on facebook or other websites or face to face dating at facebook parties, is a new trend that has come to stay. However, given that teenagers are still growing mentally, physically and sexually many teenagers don’t know how they should go about it or what preparations they should put in place before hand. While parents are the best people to inform them, there is still a breakdown in open communication between parents and children , while some parents shift the responsibility to their children’s teachers. The result is that many teenagers depend on the experiences and advice of their peers which is not always correct.

The Sunday Observer spoke to Head, Department of Psychiatry, University of Sri Jayewardenepura Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Colombo South Teaching Hospital , Dr. Yasodha Rohanachandra on the consequences arising from this emerging trend and how it impacted on the mental health of a young adolescent.

In reply she said, “Attraction towards the opposite sex is a normal behaviour during adolescence, due to the hormonal changes taking place during puberty. However, teenagers have limited decision- making capacity and are more likely to make impulsive decisions and give into peer pressure in their romantic relationships. They have little understanding of what healthy relationships should look like and are more likely to get involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships. Being involved in such relationships can lead to negative mental health consequences such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.”

Asked if any studies had been done on this issue in recent years she said,

“There are several studies done in the US on teen dating violence. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that dating violence is common among teenagers and that about 1 in 12 of teenagers’ experience violence within romantic relationships. To my knowledge, this has not been studied in the Sri Lankan context.


To MediSnips”’ query on gaps she saw in this field and would like to see filled, she said, “Although attraction towards the opposite sex is normal during adolescence, not all teenagers get involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships. Teenagers who are from disadvantaged homes and those who lack supervision are more likely to be involved in unhealthy romantic relationships. Similarly, higher levels of bonding to parents and good social skills can protect teenagers from engaging in unhealthy romantic relationships. Therefore, addressing the risk factors that lead teenagers to get into unhealthy and abusive relationships should be addressed in order to minimise dating violence among teenagers. Programmes to teach teenagers about healthy relationships and where to seek help if they experience problems in their romantic relationships should be incorporated into the school curriculum. This is practiced in developed countries and has shown promising results in reducing unhealthy relationships among teenagers.


As she was a member of the Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists, we asked what interventions had been made by the College so far to correct the gaps. Responding to our query, she noted that,” The Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists has been conducting public awareness programmes and capacity building programs for primary care workers across the country about adolescent mental health, adolescent relationships and how to help them. Members of the college also do mental health promotion activities among school children, to promote mental well-being and healthy relationships among adolescents”.


Now that the internet has come to stay it is likely that teen dating will continue with young pleasure-seeking teenagers posting pictures of themselves on Facebook and other websites. So, what is your solution? We asked. How should parents cope?

In reply she said, “Education is the key. We need to educate teenagers about the possible dangers associated with posting material online. Parental supervision is also vital, especially in younger teenagers, who are not mature enough to understand the consequences of such behaviour. Parents should also familiarise themselves with the latest technology and trends in social media use so that they can keep track of what their teenagers are doing online. Using the help of telecommunication service providers to restrict access to social media sites can also be done, especially for younger teenagers. Young teenagers should not be given their own smart phone or device and they should be allowed to use these, only under parental guidance and supervision.

Role of parents

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, children start dating at an average age of 12 and a half for girls and 13 and a half for boys. Asked for her comments, she said, “We are seeing more and more teenagers involved in romantic relationships at a younger age now, which seems to be following the trend in Western countries. We also see this leading to a lot of conflicts between parents and children. Rather than labelling these teenagers who are involved in relationships as “bad” and shunning them from the community, we need to accept that attraction towards the opposite sex in a normal part of development. It is only by accepting this that we can have open communication about relationships and educate teenagers about healthy and unhealthy relationships. We often find that teenagers do not disclose the problems they have within relationships to their parents due to the fear of being punished. This can cause the child to be trapped inside an unhealthy relationship with no way of seeking help. Therefore, it is only through open communication that we can assist teenagers through this turmoil.

Advice on healthy responsible teen relationships

Asked what advice she had to offer for parents in order to encourage healthy responsible teen relationships, she said, “Parents need to communicate openly about dating and romantic relationships with their teenagers. Teenagers should be taught what healthy relationships should look like. For example, they need to know that in a healthy relationship both parties respect each other, make decisions together and do not try to control each other or try to limit interactions with their families and friends.

Teenagers should be taught that love and sex is not the same thing. They should be made aware that one does not need to engage in a sexual relationship to display their love, or that just because someone has sexual attraction towards them, it does not necessarily mean that they are in love. It is also important to teach teenagers that any form of violence, whether verbal, physical or sexual should not be tolerated.

It is also of utmost importance that parents model what a healthy relationship should look like within their own relationships. Teenagers take cues from their surroundings and the media they follow. If they see violent relationships at home, on television they may normalize any violent or damaging behavior within their own relationships, which highlights the need for parents to model positive relationships.


We also asked if, like in some countries where there are apps for teens according to their ages with regard to dating. we have anything like this in Sri Lanka, she replied, “I am not aware of any apps that give information to teenagers about dating in Sri Lanka. But it would be a feasible way of educating teenagers about relationships and the danger signs of unhealthy relationships.” she added.


Asked if there were hotlines where a troubled teenager could reach out to at any time of the day, she said, “If teenagers have any issues relating to their romantic relationships, they can dial 1926, the hotline of the National Institute of Mental Health, where they will can talk to qualified mental health professions who will assist them in resolving their problems. You can also chat with these professionals through the 1926 chatline.