The good, bad & ugly: Handling relationships in high school

design: Jaylen Lewis

Dating in high school is arguably one of the most romanticized things in pop culture. Movies like “High School Musical”, “10 Things I Hate About You” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” all showcase relationships in high school settings. 

Teen movies and television shows similar to these create false expectations for current high school students, as they often only portray long lasting relationships. They are seemingly perfect with a few minor issues that are resolved in the end where they are able to live happily ever after. Because of this, many can be disappointed with the actual realities of dating in high school. The ups and downs could make people question whether they’re worth it.

High school is a time when many students are often busy with activities outside of school, whether that be extracurriculars, sports, work or something else. Balancing this, along with their school work, can sometimes be a challenge for students. Being in a relationship during this time would add something else to balance but is doable if one knows how to manage their time properly.

“It is very hard to balance everything at times because I have school, swim, clubs, a job and friends,” senior Alex Knodel said. She has been in a relationship for the past year and a half. “My boyfriend and I try to get together once or twice a week at least, but I barely have any free time because I have to balance everything.”

For upperclassmen specifically, relationships may be hard to balance due to the future preparations for college applications. Junior and senior years of high school are extremely busy for the majority of students, and some think that adding a relationship on top of all that may become too complicated.

“It’s really important that people understand that dating isn’t exactly a priority for everyone right now. I’m personally too focused on grades and college applications right now to worry about managing a relationship,” senior Sathvika Kasarla said.

In addition, an argument that is often made against dating in high school is the short amount of time that they tend to last. Typically, high school couples break up after a few months, leading to people questioning whether they’re worth experiencing.

“Sometimes people tend to get delusional and think that their high school relationship is going to last forever,” Kasarla said. “I know of a lot of people who date in high school that probably shouldn’t because they’re not mature enough and don’t even know everything about themselves yet.”

Despite the fact that most high school relationships do not last a long amount of time, many students still make the conscious choice to get involved in one. While a reason for this is because they hope that the relationship will last long term, some argue that even if it doesn’t, it still has the potential to teach someone important lessons or things about themselves that they otherwise wouldn’t have found out.

“Being in my relationship has helped me realize what my priorities are. With the little time that I do have, I make sure I spend it with the people I really want to be around. It has also helped me learn to understand just how much one person can change your life and become such a big part of it,” Knodel said.

All things considered, whether a high school relationship is worth it depends on the people involved and whether they are willing to put in the effort to make it work. It’s common knowledge that high school relationships usually don’t last long term. However, when they do, it is likely because both parties are mature enough to make it work.

“I have been in my relationship for about a year and a half. My boyfriend and I have been able to make it work because we always make sure to be on the same page about everything, no matter how small of a deal it may seem,” Knodel said.

The level of maturity is often the deciding factor in whether or not a relationship in high school lasts. It’s therefore important to consider this before one decides to get involved in one.

“If you aren’t willing to communicate and be honest with your partner, then I wouldn’t bother wasting your time on a relationship, because it probably will not work out in the end,” Knodel said.

In addition to students deciding whether they should take on a relationship, parents may also become wary of what their kids do outside of school. High school relationships are often a topic of controversy among parents, teachers and high schoolers themselves. The age range around 14 to 18 is a critical developmental age where teens learn a lot about who they are.

English teacher Laura Calland, is one of many in her department who is married to her high school sweetheart. She said nothing with her husband felt forced.

“We were pretty self-aware when we started dating, and have both always kind of been ‘old-souls’, so we were ready for a certain level of commitment. We didn’t ‘force’ the commitment, though, it kind of just played out that way,” Calland said.

She focuses on the idea of healthy relationships and doesn’t believe that there is a certain time period in life that determines what makes a relationship healthy.

“It is hard to have a single view on high school relationships as so much depends on the people involved and the context,” Calland said.

AP Psychology teacher Brooke Sandy, notes that there isn’t a specific answer to how high school students handle relationships. However, she offers input to specific psychological facts that can have an impact on high school relationships.

“In teenagers, the limbic system — brain structures responsible for emotions and drives — are fully developed, whereas areas like the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making and judgment aren’t fully developed until your early-mid-20s,” Sandy said.

She explains that this is why teenagers in relationships are more prone to emotional decisions and actions because they may not think through everything beforehand.

“To be clear, this doesn’t mean teenagers do not have judgment,” Sandy said.

Developmentally, teenagers also have varying degrees of psychological maturity, which can influence relationships heavily. This is because the ability to successfully maintain relationships is determined on how well the people in the relationship are able to handle situations.

Research from a study done by the University of Georgia debunked the theory that dating during teenage years is an important way for young people to build self-identity, develop social skills, learn about other people and grow emotionally.

The study finds that not dating can be beneficial as teens in this group showed signs of better social skills and were less likely to be depressed than their dating peers according to Science Daily.

Despite this, there are still many positives to being in a high school relationship.

There is no set standard for a high school relationship or a way to tell if it will last or not. It varies from couple to couple and all depends on the people involved in the relationship. If high schoolers should partake in romantic relations again depends on the person and their preferences. If they are making the decision of dating for themselves, studies can prove it to be beneficial.

If the decision is for oneself, many positives can grow and flourish from it. A typical high school relationship can offer a range of opportunities for students involved. Arizona State University Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Psychology Thao Ha states, “Romantic relationships offer teens wonderful opportunities to pursue some positive developmental tasks,” according to The ETR.

This growth opportunity also raises questions about what kind of tradeoffs exist for those students in regards to their social lives and other responsibilities.

Ha goes on to further support the idea that good conflict-resolution skills are necessary in a healthy relationship. Both members should work to support one another in their busy schedules rather than solely adding to the other’s lists of responsibilities. The opportunity to have someone  to rely on and have one’s back works to alleviate the stress and burdens associated with being a student and helping stimulate personal growth.

In order to balance a busy schedule, both individuals must be accountable and maintain the responsibilities they had prior to the beginning of the relationship.

When describing his own changes in academic habits, senior Matt Hopkins who has been in a relationship for the past four months said, “My performance has not changed at all. I have made academics and extracurriculars a priority so they haven’t really changed.”

In order to be able to keep a healthy relationship, Hopkins and other students support the idea that partners should prioritize supporting one another in pre-existing responsibilities rather than monopolizing each other’s time.

Unfortunately, the nature of high school poses one of the biggest barriers when it comes to forming a meaningful and committed relationship. 

“There’s a lot going on with applying and getting ready for college as well as academics and extracurriculars. When a relationship is added on to all that, it can be difficult to balance and overwhelming at times,” Hopkins said. 

For some students, a relationship can be borderline impossible. It is extremely difficult to uphold quality of work in academics and extracurriculars while also devoting large quantities of time to a partner. The time that was once spent on things like studying and practicing for sports may be shifted towards that person.

Another often overlooked and ignored aspect of dating in high school is the varying level of maturity and ability to make smart decisions.

“Freshmen and sophomores aren’t mature enough yet, but when you get to be an upperclassman you start to become mature enough to be committed and make better decisions,” Hopkins said.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center conducted a study on how students feel about being in high school. Even without adding dating as a factor in this survey over 58 percent of students stated they were exhausted and over 50 percent also reported feeling overly stressed. Adding dating as a criteria for students who already face packed schedules and increasingly heavy workloads has led to even higher stress levels among students.

Being in a relationship can conflict with maintaining friendships for many students. 

“My friendships haven’t changed much, but I do hang out with my friends less because they also have girlfriends too so we see each other less. But we are still as close as before,” Hopkins said. 

He believes that while it feels good to have a significant other to spend time with and be close to, there’s a certain amount of dedication that should be put towards friendships.

A unique obstacle many high school couples face is gaining parents’ approval and trust. Many couples often find it difficult to spend time together due to rules set by parents or loss of trust.

“Sometimes my parents wished I would spend a bit more time focused solely on schoolwork but overall, they are very understanding and supportive,” Hopkins said.

For underclassmen, it is even more difficult when transportation is not easily accessible or they don’t have the funds for dates.

Looking to the future, many students are blinded by initial attraction or other characteristics and become involved in relationships that will clearly not last in the long run yet still choose to pursue them. 

“Some definitely will but many won’t. It really depends on the type of relationship and the people involved.” Hopkins said. The responsibility associated with being in a relationship falls into the hands of the two individuals involved, ultimately the final outcome is dependent on their own actions.