Photo Illustration by Getty, Elena Scotti/Fusion
Photo Illustration by Getty, Elena Scotti/Fusion

Teens, it turns out, don't really Tinder. But tech is, unsurprisingly, a big part of the modern high school hallway romance — it's how today's teens flirt, break up and creep on crushes, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center that surveyed 1,060 teens about how they use technology.

"The real big takeaway for us is the way tech is woven into teen’s romantic lives," said Amanda Lenhart, an associate research director at Pew and the lead author on the report. "It’s absolutely part and parcel of how teens expect to communicate."


Well, obviously. This is a generation of people who haven't known a world without internet and smartphones. Interestingly, most teens don't actually use the web to meet new crushes. While at least 11 percent of adults online date, teens are still mostly meeting each other in the schoolyard… or wherever it is that teens hang IRL. Only 8 percent of the teens surveyed had met a significant other digitally, with half of those saying it was through Facebook.

Instead, sites like Facebook have become digital extensions of high school hallways, and have made communicating a crush more complicated and nuanced. No longer does shooting a crush longing glances at their locker suffice — instead it's a balance of real life flirting, Facebook friending, liking, commenting and scoping a crush out online to see what they're like. Half of the surveyed teens flirted by friending a crush online and then liking or commenting on their posts and photos to signal interest. Obviously, this would undo the drama of pretty much every prime time teen TV show of the 1990s. Just reimagine all of My So Called Life's hormone-fueled hallway scenes with Angela standing at her locker subtly liking everything Jordan Catalano posted on Facebook.

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A lot of teens were also not above a little cyberstalking. One in five said they had used social networks to find new love interests by following or friending someone a friend suggested they might be interested in. The trick, teens told researchers, is not to reveal that you’ve been stalking.


“You don't want to go back and you don't want to, like, comment on their actual photo from 100 years ago," a high school girl told Pew. "You don't want to do that.”

That comes off as creepy, another teen girl explained to researchers.

“I'd be kind of creeped out if someone mentioned my photos from a long time ago, especially because those photos tend to be very embarrassing," she said. "They're old, and I'm like, why did I post a photo of me?”

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Dating itself is also made more intricate by tech. Once they sync up, teens are tied at the digital hip. Of teens that had relationships, 15 percent said they were expected to check in hourly and 38 percent said they were expected to do so every few hours.

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Even though they consider it taboo, teens aren't above using tech for breakups, either. More than a third of teens had dumped someone by text message. Another 15 percent had just ghosted someone. 💔


For young love, all this texting and friending seems to come with consequences. More than a quarter of teens said that social media makes them feel jealous or unsure about their relationship. (Previous studies have shown that creeping on your partner's profile isn't good for the relationship.) Almost 70 percent of teens with dating experience were uncomfortable with how many people could see what’s happening in their relationship on social media.

Teens. They're just like us.

The process of getting to know someone is inherently different when it's mediated by a screen, Lenhart said. We're more apt to disclose something deeply personal, but also more likely to experience feelings such as jealousy.


In some ways, modern teen relationships seem a lot more grown-up that the puppy loves of yesteryear: having so many ways to communicate creates many more expectations and rules.

Technology, Lenhart told me, has added new layers of complexity to teen relationships that today's adults never experienced.


"For today's teens, it's complicated," she said.

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