Many teenagers consider it taboo to date someone two years older or younger than themselves. For example, freshmen are often looked down upon for dating an upperclassman, while a senior dating a freshman is frequently considered predatory or inappropriate. Parents, too, usually express discomfort or outright forbid their children from dating anyone a year and a half older or younger, but how much of an age gap is socially acceptable?
Dubbed the “official dating formula” by online Reddit users, the equation ½ (age) + 7 is suggested when it comes to determining the socially acceptable gap in age. This dating formula is oftentimes joked about — and for good reason. According to this rule, it is not creepy for an 18-year-old to date a 16-year-old, but a 15-year-old is off limits. However, the dating range widens the older one gets, meaning that it is more socially acceptable for a 30-year-old to date a 22-year-old, but not an 18-year-old.
“My brother dated a freshman as a senior and it was gross to me,” junior Maya Peyton said. “I feel like a freshman dating a sophmore would be okay but any older than that is weird.”
According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, a teenager’s brain is not fully developed until between the ages of 18 to 20, but the prefrontal cortex — the part responsible for rational thinking and impulse control — is argued to not be fully developed until one’s mid-20s. Many parents fear allowing their child to date someone older may be potentially harmful to their wellbeing, as each year a child grows and learns from mistakes, his or her maturity level shifts. Considering this information, parents could see the relationship between a 13-year-old and 16-year-old as troubling due to the 16-year-old’s maturity and the 13-year-old’s lack thereof.
Parents’ opinions, on the other hand, may be completely hypocritical when it comes to deciding whether or not their child should be able to date someone older. It’s common to meet couples with more than just a two or three year age gap. About seven or eight percent of all married heterosexual couples are classified to have a large age gap (10 years or more). Although there is limited evidence regarding the statistics of same-sex couples, about 25 percent of male couples and 15 percent of female couples have a 10 year age gap or more.
Miaa Torres was a junior when their significant other Ashley Ricafrente graduated from Bear Creek. To them, the age difference was doesn make a difference maturity wise but affects the relationship grade-wise].
“That fact that she’s older than me isnt that big of a deal, ” Senior Miaa Torres said. “It does affect us grade-wise, however, because she’s off at ollege and I’m here at home.”
An evolutionary perspective may be one reason why age gaps in relationships are so common. Traditionally, women preferred mates who have greater resources and who are more established, both traits that are more prevalent in older partners. In contrast, men tended to be more attracted to women who are in their reproductive prime. These factors could be the reason why most people turn a blind eye when older men date younger women, but when older women date younger men, they are condescendingly referred to as “cougars,” indicating a predatory relationship.
There is no middle ground in the argument about what an acceptable age gap should be when it comes to relationships in high school. Dating an older peer gives students the opportunity to learn from someone more mature, and the experience could lead to increasing maturity level. However, the lack of experience between the two may lead to confusion when to comes to what the two desire out of a relationship at best; at worst, the power in balance that stems from the age difference could lead to a more dysfunctional relationship.