The thought of your teen dating — who in your eyes is still that snotty-nosed 5-year-old — might have you panicking. Flashbacks start appearing before your eyes and all you can visualize is every mistake you made while dating and you want to protect them, right?
It’s normal to fear for your child. The last thing you want is for them to go through heartbreak, pain, peer pressure, or to be abused in any way.
As uncomfortable and scary as it might feel, you also need to remember it’s normal and healthy. This is a part of life they need to go through to learn and develop into a strong and independent adult.
Dating in the Digital Age
So now you’ve come to terms with the emotional and social pressures of dating being completely normal, and know that they need to happen. But you’re realizing that dating looks NOTHING like it did when you were in the scene.
You probably envision dating as your teen going out to dinner, the movies, walking around the mall, and long phone calls with a special someone of interest. But that’s not how dating looks anymore.
In fact, most relationships start completely online. The always-around cellphone and explosion of social media have drastically influenced the world of dating. Hanging out doesn’t even require your teen to leave their room if they don’t want to.
When they start dating or calling it ‘a thing’, you’ll need to be ready with caring and supportive conversations. But the first step is to know what they’re even talking about. Understanding the age they live in is key.
The Positive Side
Even before the pandemic, socializing didn’t stop when the bell rang for school to be dismissed. Instead, it carried over onto Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok well into the night.
So it’s no surprise that dating online is the most popular way to initiate relationships. Even if your teen’s school isn’t virtual, socializing is kept at a minimum — masks don’t make it any easier. And a lot of families aren’t comfortable getting together anymore which has just amplified their presence online overall.
There are some positives to this digital age:
1. Makes Dating Easier
Teens spend a lot of time texting & messaging new love interests. This approach has the ability to make dating easier. They get to test the waters in a relatively safe space. They can see how this specific person talks to and interacts with others online, even the kind of posts they like.
2. Helps Teens Who Are Shy
Anxiety and shyness go hand in hand. So meeting in person can feel awkward, especially at this age. Breaking the ice online can help introverts feel more comfortable during their first real-life meeting.
3. Meaningful Connections
Social media does make it easier to make meaningful connections from the get-go. Maybe they want a boyfriend or girlfriend who’s strong in their faith? Or someone who has similar values or interests? It’s easy to weed out who doesn’t meet those standards when you have more information at your fingertips via social media.
4. Long-distance Is Doable
Long gone are the days of needing phone calls and letters to keep a long-distance relationship burning bright. Facetime is the answered prayer and teens can even plan virtual dates. The internet makes staying connected possible, which is great if someone has to leave for college or a temporary job.
The Negative Side
Where there’s a positive, there’s usually a negative. And for parents, there seems to be a long list of scary negatives with teens and the new age dating scene.
Here are a few to be aware of:
Examples of this would be receiving mean texts, someone hacking into your teen’s social media account, spreading rumors and misinformation, and calling them names.
Whether they search for it intentionally or it pops up on accident, pornography seems to be behind every corner and a new way for an online couple to connect. Watching it together, or creating videos for each other is something you should talk about.
Predators can pretend to be someone they’re not, tricking your teen. They can request sexually explicit images or videos, and pry for personal information.
4. Dating Violence
It’s currently happening in 25% of online relationships. Dating violence includes pressure to share or post sexual content online, psychological aggression, and stalking.
This is why open communication is key! And of course, setting boundaries is crucial to ensure your teen’s safety. Take the steps to do so, it goes a long way.
Your Teen Being Ghosted
Your teen may get ghosted. Being ghosted is when out of nowhere, the person you like and have been talking to regularly just stops replying to you.
Maybe your teen has been talking to someone for months now, and just like that *snaps finger* they disappear…. They’re being ghosted.
It’s no different than someone not calling you back when you were young. Or just not answering the phone at all.
It hurts your teen just as much.
It’s Real to Your Teen
Remember, there’s no more guaranteed way to push your teen away from you than to make them feel like you don’t care. Like you don’t even try to understand them.
These relationships — these feelings they’re experiencing — they’re real to them, even if it doesn’t feel real to you.
It comes down to this… they’re feelings are always real, whether online or in person. Try to remember this and be excited with them when they’re happy. Or empathize with them if they’re ghosted or dumped.
Be there for your teen and help them see that you are a safe place they can always come to.
Validate Their Feelings
Try not to dismiss their feelings, instead validate them. Ask questions so you can truly understand where your teen is coming from.
It’s easy to use a condemning tone or expression and not even realize it. Instead, try to help them see how important it is to openly discuss different aspects of their dating life.
This is the age when they’re learning how to grow and develop healthy communication skills, be their teacher! Set a good example for them.
Importance of Real-life Connection
While it’s good to understand where your teen is coming from, it’s also important to teach them why a real-life connection is necessary for any healthy relationship.
If your teen is only connecting online, this could be problematic in the long run.
A few reasons why 100% online romances are a problem:
1. May Limit In-Person Social Interaction
If their boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t living close by, they may decide to skip out on social events since their significant other can’t be there with them. Examples can be events like dances or parties. They may prefer to stay home and chat with them online instead.
2. Chivalry Is Dying
If you have a daughter, she should experience first-hand what it’s like for a boy to open a door for her, or offer his coat if she’s chilly.
If you have a son, he should have the opportunity to implement these chivalrous acts.
Even holding hands is a learning experience and a healthy step in navigating adult relationships.
3. Profiles Are Replacing Real Life
Teens can think they know everything about a person just by their profile and activity online. But that’s just a piece of the puzzle.
They should observe how this person is in real life as well. How he/she treats others. Are they patient? Are they a bully? You can’t know enough about a person to decide if having a relationship with them is right until you’ve spent time together in person.
How To Help Your Teen
There’s a huge and impactful opportunity here for you, as a parent, to connect with your teen. The window of time between teenage dating and adult dating is short, and they’re looking for guidance (even if they don’t want to admit it).
Talk to them! Talk about boundaries and rules that apply specifically to dating online.
Discuss their plan for meeting someone they initially met online, in person. Perhaps you’ll decide these meetings should happen in a public place with a group of friends until they get to know each other better.
It doesn’t have to be one big talk either. Break it up into several conversations and cover a variety of topics including values, peer pressure, sex, expectations, safety, and more. Share mistakes you’ve made and be open with your teen. They’ll respect you for this.
It might feel incredibly outdated to share what dating was like for you at their age, but it does help them look at the bigger picture of respect and mutual consent.
Also, don’t assume they know the basics and skip over them. Talk about how to show respect when meeting your date’s parents, how to be on time, and to not be on their phone texting or on social media during the date.
Address what steps they should take if their date forces him/herself, becomes aggressive, or even just behaves disrespectfully. Have a plan! Do this less like you’re trying to lay down the law. Instead, try to make it feel as if you’re coming up with this plan together.
These efforts you put forth to guide your teen will help them with future relationships. You’re giving them the tools they need so they can navigate what comes their way.
Ready or not… this is the digital age of dating. Teenage romance can be a rickety roller coaster on its own, and technology adds some upside-down twists.
It’s true, your teen probably does know more about navigating the online dating realm than you do — but you know more about long-term relationships.
So even if this type of dating feels foreign, remember that your teen deserves your support and guidance. You are who they crave this from.
Want to learn more about how you can help your child through these current and trying times?