Washington DC—Teenage boys have feelings, too, and when it comes to matters
of the heart, they may not be so fleeting after all. Not far beneath the bravado
often on display is an unsure adolescent who finds it hard to express emotions
that, while new, are nonetheless often sincerely felt.
Boys are more vulnerable and emotionally engaged in romantic relationships
than previously thought, according to the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study
led by Drs. Peggy Giordano, Monica Longmore and Wendy Manning of Bowling Green
State University (BGSU).
Also contrary to traditional belief, girls in the study, on average, scored
higher than their male romantic partners in terms of decision-making power.
The sociologists' findings appear in the April issue of American
Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological
“These early relationships matter for boys, as well as for girls, and even
though they may not last forever, the young people are taking important lessons
from them about how to conduct social relationships, and about themselves and
their emerging identities,” said Giordano, a Distinguished Research Professor of
sociology at BGSU.
“They (teen romantic relationships) really have important socializing
influences,” added Longmore, a professor of sociology.
Early dating experiences have been a relatively neglected subject of study,
according to the BGSU researchers. That's due to assumptions that such
relationships are short-lived and shallow, and therefore not very influential,
Giordano explained. The focus has been almost exclusively on sexual behavior
rather than on the relationship itself, she said.
More is known about adolescent influences from parents and peers, with whom
romantic partners are often lumped, Longmore noted.
But the study, supported by funding from the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development, has sought to change that. Considering that about
80 percent of teenagers have had a romantic relationship by age 18, what it
means to them should be of interest, Giordano said.
For the study, 1,316 junior high and high school students from seven Lucas
County, Ohio, school districts were interviewed, primarily in their homes. The
students recorded their responses on laptop computers. In-depth “relationship
history” narratives were also elicited from 100 of the teens (51 girls and 49
Giordano said that in general, the boys revealed a self-portrait far
removed from the confident, dominant image seen in the existing research
literature. They reported significantly lower levels of confidence, as well as
greater “communication awkwardness,” in their romantic relationships.
Girls may be better prepared for those relationships because of more
experience with intimate communication with friends. However, boys as well as
girls reported feelings of heightened emotions toward their current or most
recent romantic partner—contrary to the notion that boys are only looking to
“score” and are not emotionally invested in the relationship.
Boys in the Toledo sample also perceived being influenced more by girls
than vice versa and, while most participants from both sexes indicated they
shared equal decision-making power in their relationships, the tilt was toward
the girls when power was thought to be unequal. These findings go against not
only prior research but also against the common belief that men routinely exert
more power and influence than women, the BGSU sociologists pointed out.
“If, in marriages, men are more powerful, there must be some point where
there's a switch,” said Manning, a professor of sociology and director of the
University's Center for Family and Demographic Research, with which Giordano and
Longmore are also affiliated.
It is interesting to consider how aspects of adolescent relationships might
influence boys' and girls' relationships as adults, Manning said. Intriguing new
research possibilities present themselves as adolescents enter the workforce and
get married, Giordano added, calling her colleagues' and her data “a rich
reservoir of information about their early histories.”
“What we're trying to argue in our research is that romantic relationships
do play a role in development,” she said. “While parents and friends continue to
be critically important, the romantic partner also matters in multiple
respects,” she noted, saying the relationship “can be a life-affirming,
identity-enhancing element of one's development.”
For more details about the study, contact Peggy Giordano at 419-372-2320 or
. For a copy of the
American Sociological Review
article, contact Johanna Olexy at the
American Sociological Association, 202-247-9871 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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The American Sociological Review, edited by Jerry A.
Jacobs (University of Pennsylvania), is the flagship journal of the American