by Justin Arter, photography by Bill Ryan
Flirting and courtship have never been simple matters for teenagers, even at the times when kids taped notes on their crushes’ lockers or sat in their bedrooms half the night working up the courage to make that special phone call.
But today’s flirt-to-first-date journey is even more complicated, thanks to the internet and smartphones. The situation is especially confusing for parents who want to keep up with the profusion of apps their children use for social interaction and with all the lingo involved. Teens are no longer waiting to find papers stuck to their lockers. Instead, they are on the lookout for subtweets, likes, and snap streaks.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter enable teens to communicate in real time without a phone call or a face-to-face encounter. They can share their lives and receive feedback instantaneously from anywhere.
One important element of these technologies is that lack of face-to-face communication. Social media allows teens to “hide behind their devices,” said Chris Long, an Abbottstown father of three teens.
“The most confusing things about teenagers flirting is their lack of experience with communication and interpretation,” he added. “There is confusion between infatuation and love and mature love in a relationship.”
Long and a group of teens from Hanover took time to talk about teen romance in the modern age. They tried to explain the tech behind the flirting-to-connection process for parents who want to be in the know.
Teen Connection 101
Facebook is the giant among social media platforms, but its soaring popularity among the general population makes it less popular among teens, who tend to consider it outdated. And no surprise: Do you really want to be on Facebook when even your parents have accounts there?
Facebook also developed Instagram, which is much more popular with younger users. Instagram is a platform that allows users to share photos and short videos with others, like an electronic scrapbook of a user’s life.
As with Facebook, users can express approval of another’s photos and postings by “liking” them; they can also post comments and send direct messages.
Comments on someone’s photos can be considered a kind of flirting, while “sliding into their DMs” (sending a direct message) is a very direct way of showing romantic interest.
Many teens also maintain “Finstas,” second or “fake” Instagram accounts. Finstas are accounts on which teens post more private information, such as embarrassing photos and private complaints about others.
“If they let you follow their Finsta account, then you really mean something to them or you are close to them,” said Bec Babendreier, 15, who attends South Western Senior High School.
If you see your son or daughter making a goofy face at their phone, chances are they’re not crazy. They’re probably using Snapchat.
Snapchat is another popular social media platform, which allows users to send short videos or pictures that disappear after a few seconds. Teens use this app to send their friends pictures of what they are doing or what is going on around them. If two users “snap” each other consistently, the app creates a streak counter that reveals how many days in a row they have been in contact. This is a “snap streak,” and can be a form of flirting.
There is a chance for Snapchat heartbreak, however: If the person on the other end breaks your snap streak on purpose, “they’re sending you a message that they don’t feel the same way,” said Mackenzie Christie, also a 15-year-old South Western Senior High student.
The social media platform that probably plays the biggest role in the teen flirting process is Twitter. Users post short messages about their feelings and then “hashtag,” or type in the number sign and follow it with a category so that others can see their message (#prom2018, for example).
Teens can also “subtweet” their feelings about someone, meaning they will post a Twitter message about someone but not say who it is.
They do this so that they can “hint to the other person that they have feelings,” said Madden Tullis, another South Western student.
And then there is standard texting, which has remained a staple of teen communication — including teen flirting. And no discussion of texting is complete without mentioning emojis, the little images that have become a key part of texting. There are hundreds of emojis, and many of them have taken on special meanings. For instance, sending a red heart emoji means that you really like someone, while the blue heart means they’re just a friend. (Parents don’t even want to know what the peach and eggplant mean.)
This new romance culture might seem like it’s a world away to many parents, but the differences are largely a matter of technique and appearance. Kids still feel the same butterflies that Mom and Dad did, and their hearts still pound when they connect with their crushes. The tools of romance may be different, but the romance itself stays forever the same.