The Impact of Social Media on Adolescent Romantic Relationships

The Impact of Social Media on Adolescent Romantic Relationships

As we have discussed continually on this blog, technology is impacting the formation and maintenance of relationships. Today’s adolescents have increasing access to technology, including social media, potentially influencing their social and emotional growth. Peer relationships typically flourish during this stage, including forming romantic relationships. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media was one of the primary ways for adolescents to stay connected. Adolescents continue to use social media as a central source for staying in touch with friends and even romantic partners.

Pursuing a romantic relationship in adolescence can feel exciting, and at times unpredictable. Adolescents are among the most vulnerable to romantic jealousy, digital dating abuse, and dating aggression. Social media is often the root of jealousy in romantic relationships when one partner perceives a threat to their relationship. When jealousy leads to digital dating abuse, this can be a predictor of teen dating violence. Also, a host of recent studies by researchers such as Dr. Jean Twenge have shown a strong link between adolescent mental health declines and their use of social media.

Social Media and Technology Use Among Adolescents

With the rise of new social media platforms and their popularity among adolescents, online engagement has doubled since 2014-2015. Teenagers have stated that they are constantly scrolling and engaging in social media platforms daily. In a recent study Anderson et al. (2023) explain YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram are among the most used social media platforms. Adolescent girls were evaluated using TikTok and Snapchat more often than compared to adolescent boys. Although, there was little to no difference in use between girls and boys when using YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

Although, text messaging and phone calls are the primary source of staying in touch, social media is one of the leading communication methods. Many adolescents in romantic relationships expect daily communication between their partner and themselves. According to a study by Lenhart at el. (2015) 85% of adolescents expect to hear from their partners at least once a day if not more often.

Before social media became prevalent, many had to limit their internet use, text messages, and even the amount of minutes they used on their cell phones. I remember getting in trouble as a teenager because I always went over my minutes or sent too many text messages causing a very expensive phone bill for my parents. In recent years, adolescents have unlimited data, texts, and calls they can place, giving them the ability to always stay in touch. Due to unlimited data plans, parents may be less likely to monitor their teen’s phone usage.

Not all adolescent romantic relationships start online, yet flirting seems to be happening more often over social media versus in-person. Teenagers use social media platforms to like, comment, or “friend” someone who they may find attractive as an act of flirting. Adolescents prefer virtual communication with partners through social media rather than face-to-face communication as their romantic relationship skills are still in the early stages of development.

Social Media Fuels Jealousy

Adolescents use social media as a romantic relationship builder, where they use the platform to publicly show their affection to one another and support their peers’ relationships. Social media is used among teenagers to post about how much they care and love their partner. On the other hand, teens fall subject to others’ opinions and approvals which can become over-whelming and lead to undermining their relationship and cause feelings of jealousy.

Romantic jealousy is an emotional, cognitive, behavioral, or communicative response to a perceived threat within a romantic relationship. Because adolescents perceive flirting as behaviors (liking, commenting, following, friending) on social media platforms, they can engage in romantic jealousy behaviors. These can be expressed through surveillance, over-communication, avoidance, and aggression.

Adolescents are most likely to engage in surveillance of their partner’s online behaviors, also known as creeping. Engaging in monitoring can be actions of requesting a partner’s password and spending an abundance of time on the partner’s social media profiles. Surveillance in romantic relationships can decrease relationship satisfaction, commitment, trust, investment, and length. This can be followed by overcommunication, which can be used to gain awareness, bring attention to, or bring on accusations of cheating.

Adolescents can also altogether avoid having a conversation about experiencing jealousy because they may be afraid of getting hurt, being rejected, or feeling uncomfortable. Additionally, jealousy can also lead to aggression, which can be a predictor of teen dating violence.

Social Media and its Effects on Teen Dating Violence

In early relationship experiences, adolesents have typically not yet developed the skills of conflict management, coping with jealousy, and facing rejection, increasing their chances of violence in relationships, which intensifies with the rise of social media (American Psychological Association, 2023). Research suggests that teen dating violence victimization rates are as high as 19 percent, with half of dating youths experiencing stalking or harassment and up to 65% experiencing psychological dating violence (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2022). Additionally, electronic monitoring is a form of dating aggression, which includes demands of reviewing the dating partners’ electronic interactions and is used to gather information for coercive actions (Thulin et al., 2021).  Teen dating violence is also known as dating violence, which is a type of intimate partner violence. Behaviors that can be characterized as teen dating violence are as follows:

  • Physical violence is when a partner tried to hurt their partner by hitting, kicking, or the use of a physical object to inflict pain.
  • Sexual violence is when a partner forces or attempts to force their partner into sexual acts or touch when the partner does not consent or refuses. This can also include non-physical sexual behaviors (posting/sharing sexual pictures of a partner and/or sexting).
  • Psychological aggression is when a partner uses verbal and/or non-verbal communication to inflict harm mentally and/or emotional on their partner. This includes controlling behavior over a partner’s actions, behaviors and/or physical appearance.
  • Stalking is when a partner has a repeated behavior of unwanted attention or contact which causes fear or concern for safety to their partner.

Parental Mediation and Monitoring

Many adolescents seem to believe that having a social media presence is essential to building a social life. This can make it difficult for parents to determine the right approach to developing rules for their online presence. Beyens et al. (2022) reviewed parenting and social media, describing parents’ methods and the potential outcomes for their children’s social media decisions. Mediation and monitoring styles include the following:

  • Autonomy-Supportive: Parents providing developmentally appropriate reasoning for their rules while taking their adolescents’ perspectives seriously.
  • Autonomy-Restrictive: Parents provide rules strictly or harshly without respect for their adolescents’ perspective.
  • Inconsistent: Parents randomly vary their restrictions, regulations, or discussions.
  • Permissive: Parents avoid guidance or discussion, providing few rules or restrictions.

The review suggests that an autonomy-supportive style may reduce adolescents’ time on social media and report less problematic use. In contrast, an autonomy-restrictive style may have the opposite effect. It is essential for parents to communicate rules and responsibilities about social media usage, including hearing their adolescent’s perspectives. This is a learning opportunity for adolescents to develop critical thinking skills while feeling supported by their parents.

Adolescents’ mood and behavior can be affected when experiencing dating violence. Adolescents can withdraw from friend or activities, lose interest in school or sleeping more or less than usual. Parents need to be observant and have the courage to talk to their adolescents about their relationships. Having conversations with teenagers about their social media use and their relationships is crucial. Parents can help their children set boundaries that can help them stay safe and healthy, both online and offline. As teenagers explore their phone capabilities and learn more about themselves and each other, they may sometimes behave in ways that cross the line. It is essential to keep an open dialogue when talking to adolescents about who they are talking to online and how they are feeling in their relationships.


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