How Teens Date in the Digital Age

Falling in love in the internet age is a whole different ball game to the social-media-free ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Awkward calls on the home phone, sending cards in the mail, and making mixtapes were all key relationship milestones back in the days of roller skates. But fast forward to the new millennium and dating is a whole different sport.

No longer are teens relying on their friends and family for introductions to new love interests, it’s all doable online thanks to the plethora of available dating apps and social media platforms. So it’s no surprise that research confirms that meeting online has officially displaced the traditional ways romantic partnerships were formed.

But how does it actually work? How do teens really connect online? Is it just about the dating apps? What about Instagram? Don’t they also use messaging apps to meet? And what does ‘benching’ and ‘beta-testing’ mean?

Ah, yes I know it can feel overwhelming but don’t stress – I got you! I’ve put together all the key information you need to know if you have kids who are starting their online dating journey.

1. It’s Not Just About Dating Apps

When many of us think about online dating, we think about the major dating apps like Tinder and Bumble however that’s actually not where it all happens. In fact, many teens inform me that it really is all about Instagram, Snapchat, and increasingly, TikTok. I am reliably informed that these social media platforms give you a more authentic understanding of someone – great! But, in my opinion, there are potential safety issues with using social media to attract a mate. Particularly, if you have a young, inexperienced teen on your hands.

In order for people to be able to follow you on these platforms (and send you messages), you need to have your profile set to public. So, if you have a young, naïve teen who has their social media accounts set to public to ramp up their love life, then I consider this to be a safety concern. They can receive messages from anyone which is not ideal.

2. Relationships Develop Online – Even If They First Meet In Person

In 2024, chances are your teens will not meet a potential mate in real life (IRL) – it all happens online. But even on the rare chance they do first meet in person, or they eyeball someone they fancy across the school playground, the relationship will develop online. That’s where the magic happens!

So instead of multiple landline telephone calls to friends to ‘suss out’ their crush, they spend multiple hours researching their crush online. They’ll check out and dissect their photos and posts, find all their social media accounts, and then, depending on their level of courage, they may follow all their accounts. Colloquially, this is often referred to as ‘social media stalking’.

3. Liking Posts and Commenting Is How To Get Noticed

Once they’ve built up the courage, teens may start liking the posts of their crush. Some may even go back over old social media posts and photos from several years back to demonstrate their level of interest. This is known as ‘deepliking’. Some teens think this is an effective strategy, others consider this to be off-putting – each to their own!! But the goal here is to put yourself on the radar of your crush.

Now, once the ‘likes’ have gathered some momentum, the teen may decide it’s time to ‘slide into their crush’s DM’s’. Ah – there’s that expression. All it really means is that your teen will send a direct message to their love interest – usually on a social media app such as Instagram or TikTok.

But they may not even need to ‘slide into the DM’s’. I am reliably informed that if you like a few posts of a potential love interest and then, they like a few of yours, you’re flirting and there’s definitely a spark!! The love interest may then just be the one initiating interest.

4. Be Prepared For A Lot Of Messaging

Now, if there is a spark and the crush has replied, the next phase is messaging – and a lot of it! Potentially 1000’s of messages. I have first-hand experience of paying a telephone bill for someone (no names) who was super smitten with a girl in the days before unlimited data. All I can say is ouch!!!

Now this messaging may take place on a social media app, a messaging app such as WhatsApp, Messenger, or even via text. Or possibly even a combination of them all!! The key here is to keep the messaging going to suss out whether there is a vibe!

But the messaging stage is where it can get messy and confusing. It’s not unusual for teens to be messaging with several potential love interests at once – essentially keeping their options open. Some refer to this as ‘beta-testing’, I would refer to it as disrespectful and probably exhausting – but hey, I’m old school! But this is often a reality for many teens, and it can be quite demoralising to feel like you’re being ‘managed’.

5. Let’s Make It Instagram Official

Now, this is a big moment. When your teen and their crush have decided they are exclusive and officially a thing, the next step is to let the world know and make it official. So, they may choose to update their status on their social media platforms to ‘in a relationship’. But if they are after a softer launch, they may simply post a pic of each other, or even together.

6. Is Sexting Really a Thing?

Believe it or not, some teens may never actually meet in real life (IRL) but still be in a relationship. If this is the case then it’s more likely that sexting will be part of the relationship. Research shows that 1 in 3 Aussie teens (aged 14 to 17) have some experience with sexting ie sending, receiving, being asked, and asking for nude pics however I think in reality, it is likely more – not everyone answers surveys honestly!

So, yes sexting does happen and while I wish it just didn’t, we can’t put our heads in the sand. So, I encourage all parents to remind their kids that once they send an image they lose control of it, that not all relationships last forever, and that they should never be coerced into doing something they are not comfortable with. Stay tuned for further posts with more sexting tips!

7. Some Good Things Will Come To An End

At the risk of being a cynic, chances are your child’s teen relationships will probably not last a lifetime. So, how do you break up when you’re a digital native?

Well, before the break-up phase, ‘benching’ can occur. This happens when one partner no longer wants to meet up with the other in person. It may also be the moment when your teen’s messages are no longer returned – this is called LOR – left on read. Most of us would call this ghosting. But regardless of what you call it, it’s not a nice feeling.

Call me old fashioned but I am a big fan of breaking up with your love in person and my boys know that. Tapering off contact or telling someone that the relationship is over via text is disrespectful, in my opinion.

8. Picking Up The Pieces

Helping kids through heartache is tough – I’ve been there!! If your teen is finding life post-relationship hard, why don’t you suggest they delete their social media apps for a week or 2? It’s hard to move on from someone when you are still receiving messages and/or seeing their notifications. It may even be worth unfriending or unfollowing the ex as well.

So, even though the landscape has changed, and the mixtapes have gone, please don’t forget that dating and romance can be super tricky when you are a teen. Not only are you dealing with matters of the heart but in the world’s biggest public forum – the internet. So be kind, gentle, and supportive! And be grateful for the simplicity of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Alex xx

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