The dating scene has changed
Remember when there were basically two stages of dating? The infatuation stage, when you liked another person, and the official relationship stage, when you declared yourself a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” These days, dating is not so black and white. There are many layers to teen relationships, and each layer’s terms are fuzzy. Adding to that, technology has created an entirely new dimension to the teen dating scene.
The layers of teen romance
Most teen relationships start with being interested. Similar to the infatuation stage, the interest stage is when two people, either privately or publicly, start to develop feelings for or curiosity about another person. This stage can last a long time and can sometimes be where relationships begin and end. It’s not uncommon for two teens to be interested in each other without knowing much about the other person and sometimes, without having any form of communication at all. Couples can develop interest online through brief and informal communication. During this stage, jealousy, comparison, and risky attention-seeking behavior are likely.
Next, is the “having a thing” stage. At this point, the interest in the other person is made public but the level of commitment is shallow or non-existent. In fact, some couples in the “thing” stage spend very little time together. Other couples may spend time together at school or go out with groups of friends. Some “things” include dates and intimacy, but there is no official commitment. A teen may have multiple “things” at one time or end a “thing” without much warning. This is a fragile stage where boundaries are blurred and feelings are strong.
After the “thing” stage comes the official “couple stage.” The couple will start using terms like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” and make an agreement to be exclusive. Usually, the couple is having sex but sex can come in at ANY stage.
The hook-up culture is prolific and there is extreme pressure on girls to be sexy, desirable, and wanted. This, combined with the natural impulsivity of being a teen, can lead girls to share intimate images, compromise their values, or go to great lengths to get attention. Boys face a similar pressure to be a “man” and have a sexual experience. Much of a teen boy’s status is tied to the number of his sexual partners and how much romantic attention they receive.
Dating, sex, and screens
Social media has a heavy influence on your teen’s dating experience. Teens get to know each other through social media platforms. Relationships are often initiated online, for the public to see and comment on. This constant and immediate feedback adds pressure to meet perceived expectations and display an image that reflects an ideal relationship.
Teens seeking attention may share nudes or suggestive photos on public platforms or through private messages. Teens do not consider the consequences of sharing intimate pictures and very often this choice backfires. Images can easily get into the wrong hands and become fodder for gossip, public scrutiny, or worse. .
Then there are dating apps. Believe it or not, dating apps are not just for adults. Many teens have profiles on dating apps, like Tinder, Hot or Not, and MeetMe, and they can easily form connections with people far and wide. I’ve coached girls who have used dating apps and social media to meet boys (and sometimes older men) in different states and sometimes in different countries!
Technology also makes pornography easily accessible and teens are watching! Porn feeds a teen’s curiosity about sex and relationships but tells a very skewed story, leading to confused feelings and expectations. Many teens turn to porn for information, believing it can give them a better understanding of sex and relationships.
Technology, sex, and dating can be a dangerous combination for a teen. Social media, cameras, video at their fingertips, easily accessible porn, and dating apps, entice teens into a complicated, confusing world at a stage when they are forming their identity and values about romantic relationships. It is critical for teens to have proper guidance so they can navigate the world of dating, sex, and relationships. In next week’s blog, I will offer tips for how you can help your teen navigate this area of life with thoughtfulness and wisdom.