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Teen Dating in the Digital Age: Three Things to Know

How teens are communicating online, and how it can help your program
  • Tweet This Ever wondered how social media affects teen relationships? @PewInternet found out.
  • Tweet This Did you know? Teen relationships start offline and develop online.
  • Tweet This 27% of teens who’ve dated have had a partner use social media to track their whereabouts.

From texting to Snapchat to Instagram, teens have no shortage of ways to communicate with one another and share multiple aspects of their lives. But how does all of this online activity affect their offline relationships with each other? The Pew Research Center conducted a series of focus groups with teenagers between April 2014 and March 2015 to find out. The focus groups provided researchers a glimpse of how teens use technology in dating.

Three Things to Know 

Pew learned the following things about teens, technology, and relationships:
  • Teens are offline daters. Of the 1,060 teens (aged 13 to 17) who participated in the focus groups, 35% reported having some type of romantic experience (currently in a serious relationship, currently in a relationship that is not serious, or having ever dated, hooked up with, or otherwise had a romantic relationship with another person) and 64% reported never being involved in a romantic relationship of any kind. Most teens (76%) met their romantic partners offline, while only 24% of teens met partners online, usually through social media sites like Facebook. The majority said that they would not date someone they met online because they do not trust the person on the other side of the screen.
  • Teens use social media to flirt. They also have their own flirting language. Teens might friend someone on social media or like multiple posts or photos in a row to show that they have a crush. Other ways of flirting include sending emojis, posting comments on photos, and adding additional y’s in the word “hey.”
  • Teens have experienced downsides to technology. Although technology generally makes teens feel more connected, teens with dating experience noted that digital communication can have its drawbacks. Sharing too much information about a relationship on social media can cause drama or a loss of privacy. About 27% of teens with dating experience have had a partner track their whereabouts on social media, and 27% said social media made them feel jealous or unsure about their relationships.

What Does This Mean for My Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (APP) Program?

Although not every teen will use social media the same way, Pew’s focus groups help shed light on some common behaviors. Help keep youth safe by discussing what healthy communication in relationships looks like—both online and offline. For example:
  • Explain that daily text conversations with a partner are healthy, while a partner’s frequent demands for status updates are not.
  • Provide tips on communicating better with partners. For example, explain that arguing with a partner via direct message (or even better, on the phone or in person) is safer than on a public profile, where friends can see.
  • Help participants recognize abuse or harassment online, including a partner checking their text messages or social media accounts without permission, or using the platforms to pressure them into sex. Let youth know what they could do if a partner demonstrates controlling behaviors, such as contacting a school counselor, calling the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (866-331-9474), or logging onto for 24/7 chat support.
  • Talk to participants about how keeping intimate aspects of their relationship offline and leaving a clean digital footprint can help them achieve their goals in the future.
  • Have your facilitators take the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) free, online training to identify and prevent teen dating violence. It only takes about 60 minutes to complete.

Have you incorporated discussions about digital communication and healthy relationships into your APP program? Tweet us at @FYSBgov,and let us know what strategies worked for you.



Page last updated: August 15, 2017
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