Today’s teens have always had technology as a part of their world, from learning colors and counting, to playing games, watching movies on their iPads and Skyping with their grandparents. As digital natives, it would certainly seem logical that technology would play a role in relationships, especially romantic ones.
The Pew Research Center recently released findings from a survey examining American teens’ (ages 13-17) digital romantic practices. The survey, conducted in 2014 and 2015, included online surveys and focus groups. The findings might surprise you.
Though 57 percent of teens have begun digital friendships, teens are far less likely to have begun a romantic relationship online. Most teens with dating experience (76 percent) say they have only dated people they met offline. Only 8 percent of all teens have dated or hooked up with someone they first met on social media, and most of those introductions are on Facebook.
Still, technology is a major vehicle for flirting and expressing interest in a potential partner. Along with in-person flirting, teens often use social media to like, comment, friend or joke around with a crush. Among all teens:
Where communication is concerned, overall 85 percent of teens in a romantic relationship expect to hear from their significant other at least once a day, if not more often.
Teens say texting is the top way to spend time together, which is interesting since they aren’t actually together. Phone calls and in-person time were also in the mix, along with other digital means for staying in touch. As for time spent with their current/former boyfriend or girlfriend on particular platforms, teen daters preferred:
Thirty-one percent of teens with dating experience reported that a current or former partner has checked up on them multiple times per day on the Internet or cellphone, asking where they were, who they were with or what they were doing.
Teens were also surveyed about potentially controlling and harmful behaviors they may have experienced in current and past relationships.
After a relationship ends, 22 percent of teens state that they have had a partner use the Internet or a cellphone to call them names, put them down or say really mean things to them. Fifteen percent report that a current or former partner used mobile phones or the Internet to spread rumors about them.
While technology connects us in many ways, there are some things teens need to know about technology and romantic relationships.
Dating is an opportunity to get to know someone, to see if you have anything in common, if your personalities get along and if you enjoy each other’s company — but it is not marriage. Teens need our help to understand the meaning of dating and what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For example, posting mean things is poor form and disrespectful. Demanding passwords is inappropriate. Constantly checking up on a partner is unhealthy. Demanding to know who, what, where, why and how from someone is controlling, dishonoring and disrespectful behavior.
We must help teens understand that texting back and forth is different from spending time with someone in person.
Don’t assume your teens know how to successfully navigate romantic relationships. Be a role model and teach them how to respect and honor others.