The advent of social media has presented people with a raft of opportunities to make connections and forge relationships that didn’t exist a relatively short while ago. There are numerous possibilities for sending messages and exchanging viewpoints with individuals sharing similar tastes in everything from music to fashion, and for a young person this makes for an especially potent enticement. Penpals have been replaced by people who can be connected with and video chatted to within a few clicks of a keyboard.
Many young people have significant issues when it comes to embarking on relationships. Perhaps they are shy or lacking in confidence, or have disabilities or conditions such as Asperger’s that make it difficult to embark on dating in the real world. A dating site can present a platform where inhibitions can fade as the virtual world gives them the courage to start getting to know people.
A major stumbling block towards achieving the same levels of honesty and integrity in an online relationship compared to offline is down to the very nature of the Internet. Regardless of the actual platform being used to communicate, browsers tend to have a much lower attention span than people in the real world. When presenting themselves to the world wide web the common philosophy will be focused on immediate impressions.
The evidence of this self-importance is plain to see by casually scrolling through Instagram pages or Facebook posts. Young people in particular (but by no means exclusively) have embraced the latter-day cult of the selfie. Only the most flattering images will be posted, and users will have a handle on how image-manipulation software can guarantee the most flattering results.
This leads to the point that some individuals will take this narcissism to the next level and use images that are not of them at all. When young people are engaged in connecting with someone they don’t really know the first thing about they can easily be duped by an attractive profile picture.
It’s important to put things in perspective. There are no accurate statistics about the numbers of people who are ‘catfishing’ (using false personas to foster relationships) as opposed to users who genuinely want to connect. A modicum of common sense is required. Perhaps a bottom line should be to only exchange messages until you get to know the other person; never bank details or potentially compromising photographs.
Young people thrive on the instantaneous aspect of social media, particularly web platforms such as Snapchat, where moments can be shared to a wide community momentarily before becoming incessible.
This urgency of communication, whether it’s sharing images on Instagram as soon as they’ve been snapped, or posting about something on Facebook or Tweeting about it, can be all-consuming. Where groups of friends once congregated at their local park to play soccer or practice skateboard moves, now they’ll commonly be seen huddled together, each engrossed in their mobile phones. What this all equates to is not only an urgency to communicate but impatience. None of these media are really that well equipped for deep, meaningful conversations.
However, that is not to say that online relationships are never good for young people. It’s probably fair to say the pros outweigh the cons. Once the connection has been made, on whatever platform, the parties can establish a much stronger connection through emails, Skype calls or phone chats. Are online relationships healthy for young people? While it can be clearly demonstrated the answer to that question is affirmative, life is a lot more complicated than a simple yes/no.