Love and friendships online

By Internet Matters Team on

We work collaboratively across industry, government and with schools to reach UK families with tools, tips and resources to help children benefit from connected technology smartly and safely.

Internet Matters reveals the role the internet is playing in the relationships of 11 to 16 year olds – as it launches new Digital Resilience Toolkits for parents

  •  A fifth of children would be happy to have a boyfriend or girlfriend they NEVER meet face to face – and 1 in 4 would announce their relationship on social media
  • Over HALF credit technology and social media for making it easier to keep a relationship going
  • And one quarter say they find it easier to find love online than face to face
  • Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos: “First love has always been a minefield – and its even more so in the digital – that’s why it’s essential kids show digital resilience”

A new survey from not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters today shows the hidden pressures facing children in their relationships, as it launches new resources to help parents teach their kids about ‘digital resilience’.

Among the revelations, the survey found 1 in 5 children (20%) would consider having an ‘online-only’ relationship – where they would never meet their partner face to face.

And out of those who have a boyfriend or girlfriend now or previously, one in 10 (10%) said they only ever communicated with them online. Meanwhile almost half (46%) said that they always or often post images of themselves having a great time and 34% agreed they spent time making their images look perfect before posting.

The survey* was carried out by Internet Matters to highlight the importance of children building their digital resilience so they can cope independently with the ups and downs of growing up online.

Positively, over half (52%) of children credited tech and social media for making it easier to sustain a relationship – with 62% hailing the benefits of being able to chat online “at any time day or night”, and 41% agreeing it is easier to open up about their feelings online than face to face.

And a quarter of children (24%) said they find it easier to find love on the internet – and once they do, seven out of 10 (71%) said they go online to chat with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The survey also found:

  • 28% said they’d felt left out after seeing a post from a friend at a party or gathering that they had not been invited to, and 30% had been left out of a group chat
  • 17% said they told a friend something secret which they shared with other people online without permission.
  • 14% of kids said a friend was left upset after being publicly ‘dumped’ online – with 5% saying they were upset after it happening to them.
  • 10% of kids said they had been ‘shipped’, which means paired up or matched with another person but not necessarily wanting to be
  • A quarter (26%) of the 11 to 16-year-olds surveyed said they would happily announce a new romance on social media
  • A fifth of children (19%) thought sharing news of a relationship break-up on social media was a good idea.

The new toolkits offer parents age-specific tips and an easy-to-follow video guide from psychologist and Internet Matters ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos. The step-by-step videos encourage parents to teach their children how to become digitally resilient and prepare them for issues they may face online as they experience key life moments.

Digital resilience is about parents setting norms for a child, helping them form values online and providing them with consistent and adequate coping strategies for the ever-changing online world.

Internet Matters ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos said: “These figures reveal just how much relationships have changed as a result of the internet and social media and how children are continually facing new challenges.

“First love has always been a minefield – and even more so in the digital age when it’s all about sharing your life online. With all the benefits this brings, there will be times that children need to be resilient against the bad stuff that happens.

“By building a child’s digital resilience, parents will not only help keep their child safe online but essentially empower them to navigate digital issues on their own.”

Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “We found that the majority of children see the role the internet plays when they build relationships as a positive thing. Yet some may not have the emotional maturity to understand some of the problems they might face.

“We’re pleased to have worked with Dr Linda Papadopoulos to provide practical resources which will hopefully help parents guide their children to become digitally resilient and cope with challenges they face online but also know when to seek support. The key thing is for parents to talk to their children, and our resources enable them to do more confidently.”

Top tips

See our age-specific digital toolkit to help children make safer and smarter choices online

Read more