Early adolescents and “going out”: The emergence of romantic relationship roles

F. Scott Christopher, Franklin O. Poulsen, Sarah J. McKenney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Although it is clear that early adolescents pursue and establish romantic relationships, less is known about the hallmarks of these pairings, even though they are linked to current and future close relationships. Based on adolescent identity formation and identity theory, we used theoretical concepts of roles, role expectations, and role enactments to inform our study. We conducted a series of same-sex and same-age focus groups with sixth and eighth graders and analyzed their responses using a grounded theory approach. We found that early adolescent romantic role enactments could be aggregated into two broad types of experiences. On the one hand, some youth were uncomfortable with interacting with a romantic partner. They often relied on texting as opposed to face-to-face interactions with partners. On the other hand, other early adolescents were more at ease engaging in romantic roles. They spent time interacting with their partners, shared personal information with each other, were physically affectionate, and created boundaries that defined their romantic relationships as different from other close relationships. The findings support our assertion that when early adolescents enact the new role of “romantic partner,” and develop a personal set of role expectations for this role, it requires learning, direct experience, and maturation before they can successfully engage in this role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-834
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Adolescence
  • adolescent relationships
  • dating
  • early adolescents
  • identity theory
  • relationship roles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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