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Courting Online: Keep it Classy!

By Stacey Ross:

My fifth grade girl had enough on her plate this past year than to have to worry her 10 year-old brain about boys asking her to be their girlfriend (at this age?)! This was a multiple-occasion reality for her during her last year of elementary school, however, so we decided to come up with a clever retort, which actually proved pretty effective!

Hopeful suitor: “Will you be my girlfriend?”

My 10-year-old girl: “When you have a job, a car, a phone and are ready to meet my parents, then you will be right there on the top of the list!” (We cleverly planted the phone part as to predict their next line, and then have the last word!)

Hopeful suitor: “Well, I have the phone part...”

My 10-year-old girl: “Well, then you can call me one day when you are good to go with the other items!”

Thus far, we seem to have a grip on the premature "dating" scene, but being privy to what many 5th graders were texting one another - well, we managed to successfully avoid that trap all together!

Building a relationship in the digital age

Dating and social media topics prompt the mom-meets-teen-counselor in me (career in my pre-mom years) to vent my inner-most thoughts on living the single life in the modern day digital world. Buckle up, because I have never been great at candy-coating things:

Approaching tech romance with the mindset that it is "liberation" from "old school" courtship traditions can become a social cop-out. I worry that young people are depending too much on technology, thus missing out on traditional dating and age-appropriate social skills. This ranges anywhere from using their devices to replace face-to-face dialogue, to participating in the less-and-less stigmatized hook up culture.

From the mouths of dating babes (shared with me both online and offline)

A frustrated 30-something-year-old mom: “I swear I want to burn my girl's smartphone!”

A 20-year-old student: “If you are building a relationship, you do not need to share it with your best hundred friends! There was a time when you would call your friend and share your special news, and now there is a big need to blast it immediately to everyone you know!  I deal with this on a daily basis.”

A recently-enlightened parent (regarding her 12-year-old daughter who she claims she "trusts"): I honestly don't even know how much my girl shares online, but once I saw her Instagram photos and heard her talking about boys and photos online, then did a little homework – well, I think I should get a move on it!”

A male (late twenties): “I stay super cautious as to how I go about sharing someone special in my life by just keeping my status "single." If I am with someone for several months and we are getting very serious, I might consider changing it, but I am not cool with having to always update my private life.”

A blogger gal in her twenties: “If or when a guy and a girl are official, it makes sense that their status indicates it (at least on Facebook). If someone I am dating seriously, let's say, does not wish to do so but is active online, I will question why this is so! It does not have to be that he mentions me every day, but if we are officially an item, it makes sense that his profile would share that he is in a relationship.”

Reasons to limit online courting

1. Engaging online is not the same as offline. The less dirty laundry and intimate matters of the heart singles share online, the more they will likely preserve their well-being! We live with societal pressures that encourage publicizing and even RATING one another. Rating one another??!! Our culture already objectifies people enough, turning sacred life events and rituals into reality shows. Surely, with adults it is a personal choice. With kids - not so much!

Build better social skills offline. The primary reason why courting online can be a slippery slope is because building relationships, particularly "young love," presents a crucial time to demonstrate meaningful socialization skills and not kill the courtship process the way DMs, tweets, sexting, photo updates and texts often (but not always) do. We are better off when we experience the joy of being ourselves vs. seeking emotional nourishment from online friends.

2. I'll be real here: When "text dates" and "hangin' out" become acceptable replacements for dating and group activities and fellowship, the ideals of age-appropriate courtship slowly diminish. The importance of building communication skills sets the tone for approaching dating as a rite of passage to be taken seriously vs. a time to "just chill" and see what happens.

3. There are too many unknowns online. "It’s complicated" as a status is certainly a red flag and quite possibly an invitation for drama (or a future easy way out). Who would be attracted to that? Stop! Don't answer!

4. Be safe! Everyone should be hesitant, or at least cautious, when first meeting people in person that they have only met online. Meeting strangers offline is not advisable for kids, though! Parents are concerned about unwanted "friends" in their kids' lives. This, of course, pertains to making smart choices online and looking out for our kids' safety on the internet.

5. Someone's heart can get hurt! Yeah, and then there is a digital platform to contend with afterwards! If there is a likelihood that a relationship will not stand the test of time, there is the extra burden of having to clean house online when the relationship ends. Contending with various reminders and mutual friends that pop up on one's streams is not something that can be changed with the touch of a button. What a good reason to pause before you post!

Cleaning up after breakups

If the relationship goes sour, the best advice is to not drastically change your online platforms, and likewise, not get caught in the game of checking the ex's updates all of the time. Better to take a break and clean house when you’re not so raw with emotion. Surely, there are tools and tactics for making things less psychologically torturous, but that is more in the light of damage control vs. prevention.

So let's talk prevention!

Something worth having is something worth waiting for. We are smart to remind young lovebirds to show reasonable online/phone restraint in regards to disclosing the following:

  1. relationship history
  2. financial situation
  3. personal information (whereabouts, workplace, etc.)
  4. overly-revealing photos
  5. dark side (including illegal activities, nudity, etc.)

Lastly, over-eagerness to become a couple or "hit the jackpot" might accelerate the getting-to-know-you phase, leading to predicaments like those conveyed by the popular pop song lyrics, “I don't want to meet yo' daddy; I just want you in my Caddie!” That message is quite telling, no? A great (less invasive) way to engage in conversation with your young friends and children is to ask their opinion on song lyrics, current events, etc. and then observe what that conjures up for them!

For my fellow online enthusiasts, it is good to remind our single-and-texting lovebirds: “What you text is what you get!”

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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