Social media will play a huge role in many teens’ first relationships, shaping the way they interact with their significant others. They’ll have access to their partner’s entire friend list and be able to see whom they interact with online. And platforms like Instagram have created new worries for teenagers looking to date, Van Ouytsel said, that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago. “As teens, we can be childish,” Coryatt said. “The whole commenting and liking pictures thing is big. A lot of kids my age get upset at their significant other because they didn’t like their recent post or didn’t post about them for MCM or WCW.”
In some cases, social media can distract from the types of concerns that have always haunted young relationships. Leora Trub, a psychology professor at Pace University who studies social media’s effects on relationships, described to me a textbook scenario: Someone’s ex-partner posts a flirtatious comment to their profile, causing a fight between that person and their current partner. The social-media behavior might only eclipse the core trouble: “It becomes the object of attention in the fight that ensues,” she said, when it likely highlights an existing issue in the relationship, such as infidelity concerns. “Especially with teens, fights tend to stay at that level.”
The teens Trub has worked with, having grown up with social media, have difficulty considering alternatives to socializing. For young people like Coryatt, social media has overtaken other forms of communication as a natural first option. “It’s jarring to ask for someone’s number, because now that’s seen as some kind of personal information,” Coryatt said.
How will social media’s hold on teenagers’ dating lives affect their relationships later in life? Trub and Van Ouytsel say they’ll be looking for answers to that question. At 17 years old, Coryatt has just started to explore these issues, and hasn’t yet gone through the complicated dance of navigating a whole relationship on Instagram. Sliding into the DMs of that crush has required effort enough. Despite the stress, it did produce a happy outcome—offline: “She mentioned a meme I sent in class the next day.”
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