How Teens Use Social Media In Relationships

We're often inundated with opinions about how the digital age is rendering young people anti-social robots, because of all that time they spend "staring at screens" and not having "real interactions" face-to-face. Of course, what those of us who spent our young lives staring at screens know is that what we're actually doing on there is socializing with people. We're connecting. We're interacting. We're just doing it digitally. A recent Pew survey looked at teenagers expressing romantic feelings on social media.

It's not that love is dead because young people (specifically teens age 13-17) are all disconnected, swipe-addicted sexbots; they're actually using social media to safely explore romantic connection and expression. It's a tool that's helping them connect and express their emotions with less risk than IRL interactions, not something that's damaging their ability to do it in the first place. Of course, there are also some downsides, but offline teen love had its downsides, too.

As writer and activist Lindy West put it when she was accepting the Women's Media Center Social Media Award:

"I hear a lot these days about the lazy, aimless ‘millennials’ — about how all we want to do is sit around twerking our iPods and Tweedling our Kardashians — and I also hear people asking, ‘Where is the next generation of the social justice movement? Where are all the young feminists and womanists and activists?’ Dude, they're on the internet. They're working their asses off. And if you can't hear them, it's because you're not listening."

Here are 10 revelations — some shocking, but most uplifting — from the study:

1. Most Teens Still Meet Romantic Partners IRL

While 57 percent of teens find friends online, only 8 percent have ever met a romantic partner online. Also, despite the overwhelming adolescent feeling that everyone at your school was in love but you, only 35 percent of teens reported having been in a romantic partnership (be it casual dating, a relationship, or hooking up).

2. Social Media Flirting Is Almost As Prevalent As IRL Flirting

While 55 percent of teens report letting someone know they're romantically interested by talking to them, the other top modes of flirting all involve social media:

  • 50 percent say they've expressed romantic interest by following someone on social media
  • 47 percent say they express interest by "liking, commenting, or otherwise interacting with that person on social media"
  • 46 percent flirt by sharing funny or interesting things on social media

3. For Teens With No Dating Experience, Social Media Makes "Entry-Level" Flirting Easy

  • 39 percent of teens with no dating experience have initiated flirting by talking in person
  • 37 percent of teens with no dating experience have initiated flirting by friending online
  • 34 percent with no experience have liked, commented, or interacted with a crush's post
  • 31 percent with no experience share funny or interesting content with their crushes
  • 65 percent of teens with dating experience have sent an explicitly flirtatious message, while only 14% of inexperienced teens have done the same
  • 23 percent of teens with experience have sent suggestive pictures or videos, while 2% of teens with no experience have done the same

4. Girls Bear The Brunt Of Unwanted Attention

No shock here, but 35 percent of girls have had to block someone who was flirting with them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, while only 16 percent of boys had to do the same.

5. Social Media Helps Teen Daters Feel More Connected, For Better Or Worse

Of the 30 percent of teens with dating experience:

  • 59 percent said social media made them feel more connected with what's going on in their partners' lives.
  • 47 percent say they use social media to show how much they care for their partner
  • 44 percent say social media helps them feel closer to their partner
  • 27 percent say social media makes them feel jealous in their relationship

6. Teen Daters Use Social Media To Flaunt Their Relationships To Others

  • 37 percent of teen daters say they use social media to show other people how much they care about their partners.
  • 63 percent of teens say they have used social media to show support of a friend's relationship; 71 percent of girls do this, while 57 percent of boys do it
  • 69 percent of teens say social media overexposes their relationship

7. Almost All Teens In Relationships Expect To Hear From Their Partner Daily

85 percent!

8. Most Teens Break Up In Person

  • 47-62 percent break up in person
  • Only 27-31 percent break up over text

8. Invasive Behavior Is Minimal

Only around 10 percent of teens engaged in behavior like logging into a partner's profile, modifying or deleting a partner's profile, or sending embarrassing pictures of a partner to someone else. A creepy 4 percent have even downloaded tracking programs to their partner's phone without their knowledge.

9. Controlling Behavior Is Not

  • 31 percent of dating teens reported their partner checking up on them to see what they're doing, who they're with, etc.
  • 21 percent report their partner reading their texts without permission
  • 16 percent report their partner making them de-friend exes
  • 15 percent report being pressured into sexual activity over the internet/text
  • 11 percent report a current or former partner using the internet/text to threaten to hurt them
  • 8 percent report a current or former partner has posted information about them online to harass or embarrass them

10. Teens Are Still Jerks About Breakups

  • 22 percent report having a current or former partner say mean things about them online/via text
  • 15 percent report having a current of former partner spread rumors about them online/via text

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.

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