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    Friends May Help Teens Date Safely

    Teen Dating Tends to Be Safer When the Girl Stays Involved With Her Circle of Friends
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Sept. 21, 2007 -- When teenage girls date, their circle of friends may help them keep those dating relationships safe, a new study shows.

    But if a teenage girl withdraws from her social circle while dating, she may miss out on the circle's support and guidance, which could put her in a riskier dating situation.

    That's according to researcher Sharyl Toscano, PhD, RN, FNP, of the University of Vermont's College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

    Toscano interviewed 20 teenage girls aged 15-18 at two high schools in Suffolk and Middlesex counties in Massachusetts. All of the girls were dating or had dated in the past.

    In the interviews, Toscano asked the girls about their relationships with boys and with their friends.

    Each girl typically had a group of female friends that socialized with a group of teenage boys. The girls' and boys' groups together created a "circle" of friends.

    Those circles set informal standards for social behavior, including dating.

    Typically, the girls and boys met and got acquainted through their circle, then went on group dates with other circle members, and then dated on their own before re-entering the circle as a couple. The teens tended to stay in their circles even after breaking up.

    Teens were more likely to report abuse (mainly emotional abuse, but also physical and verbal abuse) when they were isolated from their circle.

    The teens' circle was enormously important in setting standards for the dating process -- more so than their school, family, and community groups, Toscano reports.

    Of course, each circle had its own standards -- some were more permissive than others -- and despite being circles, the teens weren't always certain of what qualified as abuse.

    Being in a circle of friends doesn't totally prevent abuse in teen dating.

    But essentially, Toscano finds that a teenage girls' best chance of having a safe dating experience -- or getting out of an abusive relationship -- was to stick with the friends she'd had before her dating relationship began.

    Toscano recommends that future studies include teenage boys and a more diverse group of teenage girls, since most of the girls in this study were white.

    Her study appears in the online journal BMC Nursing.

    (What do you think of your teen’s friends? Talk with others on WebMD's Parenting: Preteens and Teenagers message board.)

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