Dating in the Digital Era, Teenage Style
By Amrita Tripathi
We’re used to talking about the stress that teenagers face due to exams, but what about the impact of the Digital Age? And relationships at this fraught age? Not just on teens, but parents, and the entire family unit? Well, it was a quote from child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Amit Sen to the Health Collective (which you can read here) on the pressure the young ‘uns are facing that kick-started a couple of interviews, and resulted in this piece.
It didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was fun to hear what some of the kids are obsessing about (and thank god those years are behind us!) Spoiler alert: From what I heard, despite a ton of drama, the (lucky) kids are alright.
Board Exam Years: Digital Detox or Drama?
So here’s the first disclaimer. Adolescence isn’t how you remember it. Nor are the Boards — and while there are enough horrific stories on the amount of pressure students are under, and the ramifications of that… perhaps it’s just as well that this story isn’t one of them. There are other major issues in the teenage years, we’ll have you know — from peer pressure to major drinking binges, to cyber-bullying and…Instagram.
Yup, that’s right. You’re judged as much for your social presence as the clothes you wear and way you speak, these days. And it’s survival of the photo-shopped-iest. Everything comes down to social.
A friend’s 17-going-on-18 year old daughter thinks fondly of an era she never knew — when people wrote and waited for letters, and boys actually asked you out for a drink in person. (It’s happened to her once at a club, she says, but hardly ever is the case anymore… Maybe in college, she says wistfully.)
These days, as she patiently explains to me more than once, the cycle of life is very different. Apparently, the guy will only even ask for your number if he likes what he sees on FB or Instagram.
“They become friends with you on Facebook. They start following you on Instagram. They like what they see, they message you on Facebook or Instagram, two platforms. They ask for your number, and they Whatsapp you. And then they’re like oh why don’t you add me on Snapchat,” Radha* tells me. (Name changed on request)
The last level is because Snapchat is more personal, she explains.
And of course then you hang out and spend time together. It’s not like when you’re younger in Class VII or thereabouts, when ‘dating’ meant being on chat the whole time. Not meeting, or even talking in school.
Radha is about to give her Class XII board exams in a month, and says that there’s no time for all this now.
“Like many people…who are in relationships…of course it distracts their studying a lot. That’s why everyone in a board year is like I don’t want to be in a relationship,” she tells me.
This year, the pressure is academic. “Studies here are the main thing. If you’re going abroad, the Boards don’t matter that much but the other exams do.” In fact, she’s aiming for a 94% and has to take her Boards seriously because she’s going to go to college here in India, “at least for a year”.
Her mother tells me she finds her daughter’s batch very conscientious. “They party hard but also study very hard,” she says. “From the beginning (of this Board year) Radha said — you keep my phone, it’s too distracting. She’s bought herself a Nokia, because you can only call or make messages. But she does take it for 1/2 hours, and goes through it.”
Radha says she doesn’t think she or her peer group have much use for exam helplines though she does know of one friend who is in therapy, for depression…she hasn’t faced cyber-bullying directly, but that doesn’t mean there’s no drama.
Think Mean Girls, Delhi 2017.
Radha talks about a friend who is quite engaged on Instagram. “She has like 1000 followers or something, she posts pictures of her outfits, and she’s not thin. She posted pictures of her in a cropp-ish top and her stomach was showing,” Radha tells me. “These kids from this other school – they used to make fun of her, imitating her pouts on FB…She got angry and told them to take it off. Then one on these comments, they zoomed in on her stomach in that picture and called her ‘cow’…it was really upsetting.”
But the girl in question didn’t take it lying down. “She did this body shaming post, and this other site featured her and that was the only example I’ve seen of cyber-bullying,” Radha says.
So that was dealt with in a very positive way. But it didn’t end there — there was some group messaging and trolling of her Instagram Live Video feed. And then on Whatsapp, the same girls shared some photos of Radha and her friends at graduation, calling one of them “a maid”. Apparently this escalated into a back-and-forth, on Whatsapp (though the girls being made fun of weren’t tagged, they had gotten hold of screenshots). Radha called out the classism and hit back, she says.
And so it goes.
The friend in question may not have internalised too much, one hopes, but who’s to say? In any event, it’s a tough tightrope walk for parents at these times — where body image itself is in such a fragile state.
Radha’s mother Priya, says that she thinks this generation is a bit mixed up. “They are very fragile — tough in some ways, like equality and feminism they feel strongly about — but they’re also fragile in many ways. About little little things…Big deal, if you’re on FB, Insta, Snapchat, you have to know that someone might not like your post. Deal with it. You’re putting yourself out there,” she says.
What about bullying? “Of course it’s not okay to bully, and I would freak out if my children ever bullied anybody. If they are bullied — to an extent — it’s okay to make them a bit tougher. I mean the world is a cruel place out there. You can’t be protecting your kids constantly.”
Not even it seems if they’re planning a blow-out week-long party in Goa post-exams… with many other private school kids from Delhi and Mumbai. Priya laughs and says that one of her friends says: “I’m ‘praying for my daughter and chanting for her’ — not for Boards, mind you, but for this Goa plan.
Coming up Next, Part II: The Instagram Generation
Editor’s Note: If you think your child might be showing signs of stress or being bullied at school, please reach out to a trained counsellor even if the school doesn’t provide one.