Digital Social Media in Adolescents' Negotiating Real Virtual Romantic Relationships

Digital Social Media in Adolescents' Negotiating Real Virtual Romantic Relationships

Catherine Ann Cameron (University of British Columbia, Canada) and Arantxa Mascarenas (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9412-3.ch004
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Abstract

Previous grounded theoretical analyses of rural adolescents' romantic relationship discussions identified media as critical conditions in negotiating gender expectations in intimate relations. More recent emergent fit analyses of urban teenagers' discussions of virtual romantic relationships extended original theories to consider a lack of confidence in communicating adequately in the context of using digital social media. The current research specifically investigated emergent fit analyses of digital media influences on relationships. Urban participants identified online platforms' playing significant roles in 1) signaling interest, 2) initiating, 3) maintaining exchanges, and 4) dissolving romantic relationships. Participants both complained and commended asynchronous digital media in exacerbating discomfort/comfort in communicating intimately. Participants sought guidance in transforming contextually complex intimate relational communications into a healthy reciprocity.
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Introduction

Motivation for the Study

The theoretical and methodological motivation for the present study is to extend an originally developed grounded theory of intimate adolescent heterosexual relationships based on focused discussions of Canadian teenagers in rural and urban communities (Dmytro, Luft, Hoard, Jenkins & Cameron, 2013; Luft, Jenkins & Cameron, 2012). The primary organizing category for negotiating dating relationships was previously found to be ‘wrestling with gender expectations’. These expectations for teens to conform to gendered, stereotypical roles and behaviours constrained what the youth thought should be natural exchanges in initiating communications and ‘doing the emotional work’ in a relationship. Notably, for the present study, ‘media’ were identified as a significant contextual condition of negotiating romantic relationships (Dmytro, et al., 2013; Luft et al., 2012).

A more recent study (Cameron, Luft, Dmytro, Kubiliene & Chou, 2017), using the ‘emergent fit’ analysis recommended by Wuest (2000) revealed that in ‘communicating’, the contextual conditions of relational negotiations were subject not only to media in general, but even more strongly to ‘digital and social media’. The focus of the present investigation of real virtual relationships then, is on those relationship negotiations identified under the most salient subcategory communications that were largely comported via digital and social media.

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Theoretical Background Perspectives

Romantic relationships create significant potentials for psychosocial development during adolescence, and potentially a ‘training ground’, according to the core research of Connolly and McIsaac (2009), for subsequent intimate relationships. Our focus on romantic relationships includes those in which partners have intimate feelings for one another that are closer and more passionate than simple friendships (Sternberg, 2013). The forms and functions of such relationships are evolving and transforming at the present time, particularly in the context of new virtual social media platforms. Today, adolescents initiate communication of romantic interest via outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Text Messaging. This digital, asynchronous, world can take precedence over synchronous face-to-face interactions with many young romantic couples, whilst opening the door to an array of other forms of communication.

A Pew Research Center investigation reported in 2015 that American adolescents were increasingly communicating via digital forums instead of engaging in face-to-face interactions: “92% of teens in the United States report going online daily – including 24% who say they go online ‘almost constantly’” (Lenhart, 2015, p. 1). Even more recent data from the Pew Center found that teenagers had conflicting thoughts about the use of social media in terms of how it helps them connect with others (Anderson & Jiang, 2018): 31% of teens claimed that social media had a positive effect and 40% of these teens agreed that it aids with connecting with friends and family. On the other hand, Anderson and Jiang reported that an alarming 24% of teens saw social media having negative effects on their lives. In fact, 27% identified negative effects due to bullying and rumour-spreading and 17% of teens stated social media harmed relationships and intensified a lack of personal contact. According to Anderson and Jiang, with 95% of teens now having access to a smartphone, it is imperative that teens be offered with efficacious tools to handle the negative effects of social media. Even though these data were gathered in the USA, they can be indicators relevant to Canada where the present study was conducted, because teen trends in Canada tend to replicate those in the US, with only a slight delay, due to geographical proximity and common technological media access and exposure.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Communication: Human interactions are foundational to healthy relationships. In the case for this research, communication was investigated within the contexts of both online media and in-person conversations.

Adolescents: For the purpose of this study we held discussions with high school students in grades nine to twelve inclusive. Therefore, adolescents here are teenagers from ages 15 to 19.

Romantic Relationships: Romantic relationships are defined as those involving an intimacy beyond friendship, and that include emotional and sexual attraction.

Digital Social Media: Communications using digital social media include exchanges that involve synchronous and asynchronous interactions over the Internet, including, but not restricted to Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and texting, etc.

Emergent Fit Grounded Theory: We extended and adapted our grounded theoretical investigations of romantic relationships to analyze teenagers’ communicative exchanges in the context of our already developed theories of negotiating intimate relationships.

Gender Roles: Teenage participants view gender-role expectations as determinant of the manner in which they are expected to behave vis-à-vis an intimate partner, whether or not they ascribe to such socially determined gendered stereotypes themselves.

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