More than Myth: The Developmental Significance of Romantic Relationships During Adolescence


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Adolescents' romantic relationships have attracted popular interest, but, until recently, little scientific curiosity. Research has been impeded by erroneous assumptions that adolescent relationships are trivial and transitory, that they provide little information beyond measures of the influence of parent-child and peer relationships, and that their impact is primarily associated with problems of behavior and adjustment. This article proposes that distinguishing five features of romantic relationships (involvement, partner selection, relationship content, quality, and cognitive and emotional processes) is essential to describing adolescents' relationships and their developmental significance. These distinctions also help to clarify the role of context, age-related variations, and individual differences in the impact of romantic experiences. Research is needed to illuminate questions of how and under what conditions romantic relationships affect individual development and how romantic and other close relationships jointly influence developmental trajectories during adolescence.