Let’s Talk about Tech and Teen Relationships


American teens spend a lot of time with their smartphones, and their interest in their phones may only be superseded by their interest in forming romantic relationships. Anytime you have two really important aspects of life intersecting, there is the potential for some really interesting data. Researchers at the Pew Research Center wanted to learn how teens use technology in their romantic relationships to meet, flirt and communicate.1 To get some answers, in late 2014 and early 2015 researchers conducted a national survey as well as several online and in-person focus groups of 1,060 American teens (aged 13-17).

Although the common assumption is that this technology has changed how teens deal with their romantic relationships. Let’s see what the data say…

Are teens in relationships and are they meeting online?

Overall, 64% of teens have never been in a romantic relationship (leaving about 36% of teens who have been). Of those who have been in a relationship, only 8% met a partner online.

Where do teens flirt?

If a teen wants to flirt or show interest, they have a lot of options. A majority (55%) of teens report having flirted with someone in person. Nearly the same number (50%) report using Facebook or similar social media platforms to let someone know they’re interested. Only 10% reported sending flirty or sexy pictures or videos (note that this is not the equivalent of “sexting,” which involves messages with nudity).

How do teens flirt?
The answer to this seems to depend on past relationship experience. For those that haven’t been in romantic relationships before, 39% report flirting in person, 37% have “friended” a potential partner, and 34% have interacted with that potential partner by liking or commenting on their posts. For those teens that have been in a romantic relationship before, 63% report sending flirtatious messages whereas only 14% of inexperienced daters have done so. The biggest difference, however, is in who has sent sexual material — with 23% of experienced teen daters sending these materials compared to only 2% of inexperienced daters.

Why do teens use social media in their relationship?

The majority of teens (59%) report using it to feel more connected or closer to their partners. They also report that it gives them a chance to show their partners they care (47%) and to feel emotionally closer (44%). While those are positive sentiments for the relationships, 27% report that social media leads to feelings of jealousy and relationship uncertainty.

How much do teens want to communicate with their relationship partners? 

The vast majority (85%) expect at least daily or more frequent communication, and 11% expect hourly communication from their partner. When asked what their partner expected from them, the numbers were nearly the same.

Has texting killed talking on the phone or spending time together?

Not yet. Even though 92% of teens report texting their partners, 86% reporting spending time together in person and 87% report having spoken on the phone. Teens also communicate in other tech-based ways such as social media (70%), instant messaging (69%), video chat (55%), messaging apps (49%), email (37%), or while playing video games online (31%).

Key Take Home Points

  • The vast majority of teens do no meet romantic partners online.
  • Teens report flirting pretty much everywhere, with social media playing a key role.
  • Very few teens report sending sexy pictures or videos on social media.
  • Teens who have had a relationship are much more likely to send sexual material.
  • The most common reason for using social media is to stay connected to a partner.
  • Teens expect daily communication with their partners.
  • Even though teens text their partners a lot, they are still talking on the phone and seeing each other in person. Technology has not completely taken over…yet.

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1Lenhart, A., Anderson, M., & Smith, A. (Oct 1, 2015). Teens, technology and romantic relationships. Pew Research Center. (Full report here)

Dr. Gary Lewandowski – Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Lewandowski’s research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences.

image source: yourteenmag.com 

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