Teens, Technology, and Relationships

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If you’ve got a teen in the house, you probably know that their cell phone is the best way to contact them…even if they’re right down the hall. At times, this attachment to social media, electronics, and online spaces can feel like “too much” to parents.

The issue can seem especially tricky when we start thinking about love and relationships. Parents may feel unsure or anxious about teens meeting or flirting online, or worry about things like cyberbullying and sexting. They may also be mystified by romances that seem to take place mostly through texting!

The respected Pew Research Center recently polled over 1000 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 to learn more about teens, technology, and romantic relationships. They wanted to get more information about how the Internet, social media, and cell phones are changing the lives of young people when it comes to relationships. Here are some of the facts.

  1. Most teen relationships still start “in real life.”

Only about a quarter of the romantically active teens in the survey had met a dating or “hookup” partner online.

  1. But social media is definitely a place to flirt.

About half of the teens surveyed said they’d used social media to somehow signal to someone that they were romantically interested in them, whether through friending, messaging, commenting, or whatever.

  1. Teens still talk to and spend time with their significant others—but texting is #1!

92% of romantically involved teens text each other, while 87% talk on the phone and 86% spend time together outside of school. 70% spend time on social media together.

  1. Social media makes them feel closer to their partners, but also causes problems.

About 60% of teens say technology helps them feel more connected to their partners, and over 40% say it makes them feel closer to them. But these technologies also lead to feelings of jealousy and uncertainty at times.

  1. They like being able to show their love publicly…but also feel “under the microscope.”

While many teens report using social media to publicly “display” their relationships and to approve of others’ relationships, they also say “too many people” can see what’s going on with them in this area.

  1. Those with dating experience are more likely to sext or send flirty messages.

Over 60% of teens with dating experience had sent “flirty” messages to someone they were interested in, while only 14% of inexperienced teens had done this. Similarly, close to 20% of experienced teens had sent a sexy picture or video, while only 2% of inexperienced teens had.

  1. Some have had to block people who make them feel uneasy.

About a quarter of the teens said they’d blocked or unfriended someone who was harassing them or flirting with them inappropriately online. Girls were significantly more likely than boys to report having done this.

  1. Some experience potential digital dating abuse and red-flag behavior by partners.

The most common “red flag” behavior is repeated “checking” by partners who want to know where a teen is, what he or she is doing, and who he or she is with. About 30% said they’d been involved in this. Reading texts without permission was also common—about 20% reported this.

  1. A smaller number are victims of obvious abuse online and through electronic media.

About 15% of teen daters reported more troubling behaviors, like being forced to share passwords or to remove exes from friends lists. Soberingly, 11% had been threatened by a partner or ex via electronic methods. Unfortunately, teens also report that online rumor-spreading, name-calling, and general unkindness, often after a breakup, are pretty common.

Overall, this report shows that teens do use electronic media quite a lot in their relationships, while also maintaining “real life” connections. It also suggests that behaviors like sexting, digital abuse, and relationship-related bullying are real issues for a significant minority of teens. However, some may not realize that the situation they describe is a problem.

If you know a teen who could benefit from relationship education, Smart Couples is offering Relationship Smarts: PLUS 3.0 to teens in five Florida counties. This evidence-based class series helps teens learn innovative approaches to relationship skills. Learn more about Relationship Smarts here.

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

References

Lenhart, A., Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2015). Teens, technology, and romantic relationships. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/01/teens-technology-and-romantic-relationships/