Teenage Love In the Digital Age

In my previous post I outlined the contours of dating and finding a romantic partner during adolescence.  While that post is full of useful information (really it is you can check it out right here) it was lacking slightly.

I made a passing reference to the impact of growing up in a digital world upon dating. In hindsight such a topic really deserves a post of its own.

For today’s teenager there is little distinction between their “real life’ or their “online life.” The IRL (in real life) self and the digital self are increasingly merging with the boundaries becoming less defining.

Teenage Love Online

In a recent survey Seventeen magazine found just how significant a role Facebook played in teenage romance.

The study surveyed over 10,000 young people, males and females, ages 16 to 21 to find out how young people are using the social networking site in their love life. Some of the key findings of the survey are:

  • 79% of people “friend” someone they find interesting within a week of meeting them
  • 60% of people check their new-found hottie’s profile once a day
  • 40% of respondents checked their latest crush’s profile multiple times a day
  • 43% of girls & 33% of guys would decide not to date someone based on their Facebook profile
  • 10% of those surveyed have been dumped via Facebook
  • 73% keep their former partners as friends on Facebook
  • 17% of guys don’t share their status, while only 12% of girls don’t disclose if they are in a relationship
  • 50% of girls get a kick out of the status change while 24% of guys don’t see the point

In a slightly less scientific study an online dating service Are You Interested conducted an online poll of 1000 people (70% were male) and found:

  • Nearly 25% of respondents had found out their own relationship was over via Facebook
  • While 21% of those surveyed said they would break up by changing their Facebook status to single.

Another interesting piece of research conducted by data journalist David McCandless explored when people broke up. He did this not by asking them but by checking Facebook status updates. He then charted his findings in the graph below. Quite telling wouldn’t you say?

Whichever way you look at it social media is very much a part the modern pursuit of love.

Perils of Digital Love

However instant communication and the ability to connect while being physically apart has real pitfalls.  I have written previously about the prevalence and dangers of sexting. Without repeating the whole article some important stats that were sited included:

  • An Australian poll by Girlfriend magazine found that 40% of girls had been asked to send nude pictures of themselves to others.
  • The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy surveyed 1,280 teens and young adults and found that 39% of teens and 59% of young adults had sent or posted sexually suggestive emails or text messages.
  • In 2009 Pew Internet Research found 30% have received a nude or nearly nude image on their phone.

Teenagers are often inclined to be very impulsive. Combine this inclination with the overwhelming nature of young love and the desire (particularly by young girls) to please their partner and teenagers a prone to the odd mistake. This can result in teens using social media and technology in ways that will damage their reputations in pursuit of love. When we were teens we probably all made mistakes in the pursuit of love, but mercifully they were  not mistakes that were captured and kept in digital formats to be distributed to the world.

Guiding Teenagers in Online Love

So along with talking to teenagers about how to act around and treat their romantic partners, parents also need to talk to teenagers about how to relate online or use their mobiles.

The big trick in doing this is to convince your teenager that they need to consider what might happen if their relationship was to end, and end badly. For the teenager in love such a possibility might seem unimaginable, just like the notion that their loving partner would ever do anything hurtful with messages or images exchanged.

One way of doing this is to mention real life examples of images that go viral and talk to your teen about how they would feel.  Ask your teen to consider if the victim in the example being discussed would have ever expected someone to make their private messages public?

Make a point to discuss with teens what they consider to be private information and what is suitable for public disclosure.

Of course all of this comes under the heading of teaching teens to be good digital citizens. For more on this see my earlier post here.

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