While social media may seem like a boon to people looking for love, allowing them to meet potential partners based on shared acquaintances and common interests, it may actually be working against users in the long run – at least if they’re teenagers. That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University, who found that social media undermines teens’ ability to manage their relationships with romantic partners.
The study, titled “Technology-Based Communication and the Development of Interpersonal Competencies Within Adolescent Romantic Relationships: A Preliminary Investigation” and published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, followed 487 adolescent subjects over a year, tracking how much time they spent communicating with romantic partners in person or on the phone, versus via text messages and social media.
The researchers found that teens who spent more time communicating with partners via text messages and social media reported lower levels of competence in two key areas of relationship maintenance – managing conflict and stating their own needs – than did peers who mostly communicated in person or on the phone. These skills cover a number of related activities like defusing arguments before they escalate, understanding their partner’s perspective, and voicing complaints about aspects of the relationship they don’t like.
While these shortcomings were evident in both male and female subjects, teenage boys were more likely than girls to report lower levels of competence in these areas after relying on texting and social media to communicate with their partners.
Lead author Jacqueline Nesi stated: “With electronic communications, there are fewer interpersonal cues. You’re not seeing facial expressions or using non-verbal communications. So, the predominant use of social media may limit the opportunity to practice in-person conversations that are crucial for adolescents, particularly boys, to develop important skills.”
Co-author Mitch Prinstein stated: “Social media allows adolescents to be in touch with their peers 24/7. It’s a great vehicle to allow adolescents to feel like they’re connected to those who are most important to them in ways that people who grew up before the social media age can’t imagine. But in the area of handling some of the tricky parts of relationships, it looks like the more adolescents are using these electronic forms of communication, the worse they’re doing over time in some of these traditional skills.”