According to New York Times columnist Jennifer Conlin, high school girls are setting their sights a lot younger when it comes to finding dates. The main reason? The girls seem to think younger guys are more respectful.

She semi-jokingly refers to these girls as “cougars-in-training,” interviewing a few of them and their boyfriends to get an inside look at what the appeal might be. Lots of ideas were raised: older high school boys trend toward younger girls, so it’s hard to find dates in the same grade; parents see younger boys as less of a threat; and there’s less social pressure (a rejection from a guy in your grade would be widely known and humiliating, whereas the younger guy could be described as “just a friend” and no one would think much of it).

Times sure have changed since Conlin’s day (and mine). In the ’90s, when I was a high school student, a senior who dated a sophomore would be given some serious side-eye. Socially, we were expected to keep our eyes forward, go for the gold (or the “grown,” as it were). It might be cool to flirt with a younger dude in a mixed-level class or in an extracurricular setting. But to actually make a freshman your boyfriend when you were a junior? It just wasn’t done. Younger guys seemed so green, so inexperienced, so… well, young.

Conlin reminisces:

High school years were like dog years back then. A one-year difference might as well have been a seven-year span, which is why the older boys looked so much wiser and more sophisticated than the boys our own age with acne. To score a college boyfriend was a real coup.

Could it be that, with times being far more perilous than they were years ago, as kids are maturing at much faster rates, this trend toward the younger guy is a protective measure? Might this mean teens aren’t in so much of a hurry to grow up and make their way into the difficult adult world these days?

Either way, it’s still hard to imagine an escort to the prom who’s barely old enough for a learner’s permit and whose mom likely wants him home by 11 pm.

What do you guys think? Have you seen this trend in action with your younger relatives? Did you date a significantly younger guy in high school, college, or beyond? If so, did you find it true that they were “more respectful” and “nicer to date?”

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