Study: Social Media Play Key Role In Maintaining Teen Romances

Oct 1, 2015
Originally published on October 2, 2015 8:48 am
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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Teenagers, love and technology - we know those things are all linked. And today, a new study by the Pew Research Center shows how much. The survey finds half of teenagers ages 13 to 17 have let someone know they have feelings for them through social media sites such as Facebook. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports that while only a small percentage say that they've met a significant other online, social media play an important role in maintaining romances.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Before jumping into the complicated world of teenage love with all the likes and posts and retweets, I thought I should get up to speed. Washington, D.C.'s, Chinatown Metro stop is a popular spot where teens hang out after school. Fifteen-year-old Skye Crutchfield and Jewell Sutton explain to me just how people their age let others know they are single.

JEWELL SUTTON: Put that in your bio.

SKYE CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, you put that in your bio. You're, like, single, and - you know?

JEWELL: Or you put the emoji that's unlocked.

SKYE: Yeah.

BOOKER: Stefan McPherson and Phillip White agree. Emojis are where it's at if you're in a serious relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED TEEN: Yeah (unintelligible). You probably just put down a little, like, a heart emoji and then, like, they at-name.

BOOKER: The Pew study "Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships" found social media is a top venue for flirting. But while less than 10 percent say they've met a significant other online, just about two-thirds say social media helps them feel connected to a boyfriend or girlfriend. And lead researcher, Amanda Lenhart, learned emojis are vitally important.

AMANDA LENHART: The hand-holding, the padlock and the heart emojis seem to be the most critical, at least in the focus groups that we conducted.

BOOKER: Lenhart said she was surprised. Sixty-five percent of boys said social media makes them feel closer to a romantic partner compared to just over half of teenage girls.

LENHART: They're more likely to say they felt an increased emotional connection and an increased kind of just connection in general to those workings of their partners' lives.

BOOKER: While teens are certainly on Facebook, Lenhart says it's not where they go to flirt or maintain relationships. Like, duh, your mom is on Facebook. Hello. Lenhart says teens tend to gravitate to visually oriented sites like Snapchat and Instagram. But when it comes to breakups, she says, surprisingly, it's still done the old-fashioned way - in person.

LENHART: That's the most socially acceptable way to break up with somebody, but it's not considered to be particularly socially acceptable to dump somebody on - by text, but a lot of people do it.

BOOKER: And of course, once that's done, the pruning or deleting of pictures and blocking exes and changing your social media profile ensues. Laurence Steinberg teaches psychology at Temple University, and he's also the author of "Age Of Opportunity: Lessons From The New Science Of Adolescence." Steinberg says today's teens are not that much different than previous generations. Sometimes they pick a boyfriend or girlfriend to gain admiration of their peers. And he adds, this study should help parents' angst about what their teens are doing on social media.

LAURENCE STEINBERG: I think a lot of adults today have unnecessary worries about the ways in which social media are disrupting adolescents' emotional development. And I think social media are - they're not the evil that, really, people think of them as.

BOOKER: Many teens may favorite that sentiment. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.