There are certain things in life that are just a part of growing up. Eating dirt, making friends, and lying to your parents can all fall under that category. Yet another part of growing up is learning how to navigate relationships with people, whether they’re one’s parents, friends, authority figures, or significant others. In fact, relationships with a romantic partner is a very important stage in development for young adults in regards to growing in areas of identity, intimacy, and social status. According to Baker and Carreno in their paper “Understanding the Role of Technology in Adolescent Dating and Dating Violence”, “almost 75% of 15-18 year old adolescents in their sample reported a current or past romantic relationship…Altogether, these rates suggest an overwhelming desire among adolescents to become involved in romantic relationships” (308).
With so many teenagers actively participating in romantic relationships, it seems important to look at how the dating world has changed with the times. Now more than ever before, kids are, as Sherry Turkle phrases it, “growing up tethered” to their technology (171). In a world of cell phones and social media adolescents require constant connection to everyone, and they get “uncomfortable until [they get] one [a text] back” (Turkle 176). So with everyone constantly connected, one would expect that dating would just be easier.
Communication is always at a person’s finger tips and distance is no object, but it seems that technology and social media could really be harming relationships between adolescence to the point of causing relationships to become abusive or violent. In fact, in many cases, Baker and Carreno’s study found that “because of the constant, and instantaneous, communication between partners that comes with the use of technology, jealousy would also occur when one partner would not respond immediately to the other” (313).
With new ways of communicating and displaying our lives over social media, a whole new playing field has been introduced into dating, especially with adolescents who are still maturing and trying to navigate through even the simplest bumps in a relationship. Facebook seems to be the social media site that leads to the most trouble for adolescent dating. Much of these issues stem from distrust and insecurity; Baker and Carreno’s study showed that “boyfriends would ‘freak out’ because one of [their girlfriends’] ex-boyfriends added them as a friend on Facebook” (313). Other than just becoming “friends” through Facebook causing questions and insecurities, pictures posted on social media has the same affect creating questions about who’s in the pictures and why a partner was hanging out with them. These in general seem like petty jealousy arguments that are really nothing new to dating and it’s just been given a different, more accessible platform, but not everything is what people would consider harmless.
Through technology, adolescents dating often report that they do some sort on monitoring activity. This could include looking through a partner’s phone and text messages, “Facebook stalking,” and even using the partner’s passwords to online social media to see who they’ve been chatting with online. It’s easy to see how these jealousy driven activities could certainly escalate quickly to what could be considered abusive. Although “Facebook stalking” is a phrase usually thrown around in a joking manner, it’s really an acknowledgement that technology has given new fodder to those who wish to monitor and control their partner’s every move without even needing to be near the other person.
As such technology has really given rise to a whole new way of being abusive in relationships and the worrisome thing is that most teenagers don’t realize how abnormal it is to require so much access and control over somebody’s life. As Baker and Carreno’s study explains “although the trajectory of these relationships changed from healthy to unhealthy, adolescents often viewed monitoring and controlling behaviors as irritating but not abusive, and therefore, did not dissolve the relationship. Other research has suggested that jealousy and controlling behaviors may not be viewed as such by adolescents as these behaviors show that their partner loves them” (309). Although abusive relationships even within the adolescent age is nothing new in society, technology has certainly made abusive control and monitoring so much easier to do and so much harder to get away from. In fact, Baker and Carreno state just that:
“Although insecurity and jealousy in adolescent relationships is not new, it appears that the ease in which communication with other potential partners can take place through the use of technology increases the difficulties in achieving stability in these relationships and makes adolescents more vulnerable to relationship discord and violence”. (316)
For that reason, as technology continues to be put into children’s hands from the moment they’re born, these children must also be given education and resources that previous generations didn’t necessarily have, such as educating these students on what abuse through social media and technology looks like so that they won’t find it as simply a way their partner is showing love. Not only what an abusive relationship may look like in this technology—specifically social media and communication devices—obsessed world, but also how to prevent it and in the case of it occurring, how to get help. The times change and no matter how much bad we see technology do and harm it causes, it’s here to stay it seems. Thus we have to change with the times and help the younger generations safely adapt to this new way of dating.