What online relationships look like for teenagers

Technology has changed the way young people build and maintain a lot of their relationships. Learn how connected devices support teens’ online relationships and dating lives.

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The evolution of teens' communication

Today, the online world has become a digital playground for children to stay in touch with school friends, meet new friends through various online activities such as gaming and maintain social interactions.

Online relationships can remove barriers that children may have when meeting for the first time and allow those who are shy or socially anxious to develop their social skills in a space where they feel safe to do so.

Although using social apps and online platforms can help children to maintain relationships, concerns have been raised about teen safety when exploring romantic relationships online.

So, what can be seen as harmless chat can turn into something harmful. If a child is lacking in critical thinking or is considered vulnerable, it may be harder for them to spot when a chat with a ‘new friend’ can put them at risk of grooming or being lured into sending nudes for example.


Technology hasn't replaced face to face contact, it's just woven into the everyday lives of young people. Relationships can and do still form offline, growing online.

The key role technology plays for teens

Our research found that the majority of teens see the role the internet plays when they build relationships to be positive. 52% of children agreed that tech and social media made it easier to sustain a relationship with 24% saying they find it easier to find love on the internet.

Communication between children doesn’t just begin or end at school and having a medium such as the internet or social media, allows them access to each other 24/7.

Teens can freely express their feelings and attraction by liking, commenting and interacting with a love interest at any time and these exchanges can help them find information about a potential partner.

How online connection supports offline relationships

Whilst technology doesn’t necessarily replace face-to-face interactions in some aspects, it is now an integral part of young people’s relationships.  Teens online behaviours may create real-life problems offline, like abuse, negative thoughts and perceptions of themselves or others.

Online relationships are based on limited information and so a teen who forms online relationships and only knows so much about that person.

The lack of teens experiencing engaging in real-life relationships can hurt their ability to develop healthy relationships and therefore can have an impact on how they view what a healthy relationship looks like.

This can especially happen if your child is missing out on real-life relationships as they spend too much time online and may be missing out on opportunities how to learn and practice skills that allow healthy relationships to develop.

How teens create online relationships

The reality is that children are growing up in the digital world so it is only natural for them to spend time in cyberspace. Teens may feel comfortable using the internet to meet people.

Interacting with other teens outside their social circle can be exciting, particularly at a time where they’re exploring their understanding of sex and relationships.

Common Sense Media – Teen Voices: Who You’re Talking to Online

What research shows

One in five Children are happy to have an “online-only” romance


Over a third of 14-17-year-olds have sent a sexual or nude photo to someone they like


Over one-third of young people have started a relationship with someone they met online


of 14-17 years old had at some pointed chatted online about the kinds of sexual things they would like to do with someone they were interested in


What are the impacts for vulnerable children?

Children and young people who are more vulnerable than their peers tend to spend more time online. According to findings from EU Kids Online’s research on vulnerable children online: they said: “Disabled children tend to have more digital skills but encounter more online risk and may lack peer support”.

What does ‘vulnerable’ mean?

Vulnerable people usually either are/have experiences of one or more of the following:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Been in the care system
  • Victims of abuse
  • Have parents or guardians who lack education or internet experience and usually tend to lack digital safety
  • Psychological difficulties – tend to encounter more online risk, and to be more upset by it, compared with other children
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people – as they can often feel like they don’t fit in or belong

And therefore, vulnerable young people are more likely to interact, seek relationships and are of higher risk of meeting strangers offline.

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