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Washington, Mar 16: Students who date in middle school have significantly worse with their studies, and are four times more likely to drop out of school, a new study has found.

They also report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates, according to the research from the University of Georgia.

"Romantic relationships are a hallmark of adolescence, but very few studies have examined how adolescents differ in the development of these relationships," Pamela Orpinas, study author and professor in the College of Public Health and head of the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior said.

Orpinas followed a group of 624 students over a seven-year period from sixth to 12th grade.

Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviors, including the use of drugs and alcohol.

Their teachers completed questionnaires about the students' academic efforts.

The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study included schools from six school districts in northeast Georgia.

Investigators used two indicators of students' school success: high school dropout rates and yearly teacher-rated study skills.

"In our study, we found four distinct trajectories. Some students never or hardly ever reported dating from middle to high school, and these students had consistently the best study skills according to their teachers. Other students dated infrequently in middle school but increased the frequency of dating in high school. We also saw a large number of students who reported dating since sixth grade," Orpinas said.

Of the early daters, a large portion of the study group - 38 percent reported dating at almost all measurement points throughout the study.

The second at-risk segment, identified as "high middle school dating," represented 22 percent of the sample.

One hundred percent of these students dated in sixth grade.

At all points in time, teachers rated the students who reported the lowest frequency of dating as having the best study skills and the students with the highest dating as having the worst study skills, according to the study.

Children in these early dating groups were also twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs.

The results are published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. (ANI)

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