How Do Teens’ Romantic Relationship Skills, Knowledge, and Attitudes Change with Age?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
- For seven of the eight measures included in the analysis, we found that teens’ relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes changed from when they were in middle adolescence to when they were in late adolescence. For most of the measures, the direction of the change aligned with the intended outcomes of common HMRE curricula. For about half of the measures, teens also differed from each other in how fast or slow the changes took place.
- Some of the teens’ demographic and personal characteristics predicted their initial relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes in middle adolescence, but they did not consistently predict how teens’ skills, knowledge, and attitudes changed with age. Therefore, teens who started off lower or higher on these measures likely retained their relative position compared to their peers.
- Of the eight measures included in the analysis, perceived conflict management skills and one of two measures of attitudes toward adolescent sexual activity most consistently predicted teens’ subsequent relationship experiences during late adolescence.
This report describes findings from an analysis of how teens’ romantic relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes change with age. The analysis was based on longitudinal survey data collected from 595 high school students who participated in an impact study of an HMRE program in two Atlanta-area high schools. For this analysis, we used data for only students randomly assigned to the impact study’s control group to estimate a series of mixed-effects growth models, a type of regression model appropriate for estimating change in individual outcomes over time.
The study findings highlight the importance of identifying and addressing the romantic relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes most in need of intervention. Our results suggest that even without intervention, many of teens’ relationships skills, knowledge, and attitudes are likely to change with age in the direction intended by HMRE programs. Results from this study also highlight the importance of accounting for teens’ varying levels of relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes. We found that teens enter high school with different relationship skills, knowledge, and attitudes based on their demographic and personal characteristics. For some of these skill, knowledge, and attitude measures, we also found that they change at different rates. This finding raises the possibility that different types of program content might resonate with some youth more than others; youth might have different interests and needs in the education they receive; and HMRE programs might affect youth in different ways, thus making it important to account for possible variation in impacts across youth.