The good, the bad and the fake

NHS students share their good and bad experiences regarding online relationships and friendships. But are these relationships in the digital age worth it?

The good, the bad and the fake

Photo by S. McLaughlin

     Everyday, we observe online posts and pictures from people from all around the world. Photos and notes about family, friends, or even co-workers and peers. But what happens when the person who sends you a friend request is someone you’ve never met? Do you accept or decline?

    Whether it is a friendship or a romance, a connection with a person on the other side of a screen can begin with just the click of a button.  According to Statistic Brain, a website that provides information about teenagers online, 20 percent of current committed relationships began online. Are theses relationships healthy and safe?  What’s real, and what’s phony? Students at NHS have experienced the good, the bad and the fake of online relationships.

Dating in the digital age

     The shift into romance is a big step in any relationship, whether it is online or in person. According to Statistic Brain, eight percent of all American teens have met a romantic partner online. Although strong bonds can be created online without much difficulty, communication and trust may be difficult to establish and maintain in an online relationship.

    Just like any relationship, online romances carry their own potential hazards. Sophomore Kierston Groet knows first hand how difficult it can be to only talk to someone online.

    After meeting her current boyfriend on a cruise five months ago, Groet later began a relationship online with him.  

    “I gave him my number, and we’ve just been texting,” Groet said. “It was hard to get to know him.”

    The distance between the two only made it more difficult to communicate with one another.

    “The time change made it hard,” Groet said. “We talked about [breaking up] all the time.”

    Social media was another aspect of the relationship that made Groet uneasy about long distance dating.

    “I think it’s hard because of social media. Like if he wants to show people that he’s at a party, he’ll take a picture with a girl,” Groet said. “Social media is not fun.”

    However, Groet still managed to see the bright sides of their relationship even when confronted with the difficulties.

    “He made trips [to Indiana] while he still lived [in Arizona], so that made it better,” Groet said.

    But after 5 months of nothing but online contact, he moved halfway across the country to Indiana to attend college at Purdue University and to be with her. Since then, their relationship has only grown.

    Digital Citizenship teacher Caleb Small claims that this is the best way to go about online dating.

    “Be very careful in what you’re doing,” Small said. “You need to meet face to face.”

     Unlike most relationships that you see day to day around school, Groet’s relationship was mostly a subject of criticism from those around her.

    “I kind of just try to brush it off,”Groet said.

    Like most parents, Groet’s mom and dad were initially hesitant to allow their teenage daughter to date someone halfway across the country.

    “[My mother] wasn’t super for it, but once he moved here, [my parents] talked to him a little bit, and they met him,” Groet said.  “So now they like him a lot now that he’s here.”

    Groet’s mother originally thought that the relationship was just a short vacation fling, but

some things aren’t as they seem.

    “Initially I assumed it was just a guy she would hang out by the pool with for a couple days, and I would never see or hear of him again,” Angela Groet, Kierston’s mother, said. “Technology proved me wrong.”
    Regarding the couple’s’ future, Groet is unsure of how things will pan out, but ultimately hopes that the relationship will work out between the two of them.

    “I feel secure in the relationship,” Groet said. “I’m hoping we stay together.”

    Groet’s mother feels the same way.

    “Whether this ends in a broken heart or a happily ever after…it makes for a pretty good story for sure,” Angela Groet said.

Surfing for friends

     Over the span of the past three decades, the internet has made communication over a long distance increasingly easier. As time and technology continue to progress, talking to complete strangers through a computer screen becomes more widely accepted.

    NHS junior Katey Helminger met her online friend, Luke McCormick from Dublin, Ireland, on the website Omegle almost two years ago.

    “We wouldn’t be friends if there wasn’t any sort of technology or anything like that,” Helminger said. “You have access to Skype and chatting.”

    However, just because online friendships can be created, maintaining these friendships can be exhausting.

    “We talk at least once a month,” Helminger said. “Obviously our schedules don’t line up because of the time change.”

   Junior Madison Rockwell has had online friends since the beginning of her freshman year. Unlike Helminger, who Skypes her internet friends, Rockwell says that she only contacts her friends through the messaging app Line.

    “You don’t actually get to see their faces a lot,” Rockwell said. “We’ve shown each other pictures of us before, but we don’t talk face-to-face.

    Online, people can choose to tell others as much as they want to about themselves, even if it is untrue or misleading.

    “One of the guys that I know was acting like he was a girl,” Rockwell said. “He [later]came out to us that he was a guy.”

    Catfishing, or luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona, is a major risk when it comes to online relationships, according to Small.

    “[Catfishing] is probably happening all the time,” Small said, “more than we actually know.”

    Love is Respect is a special project, started by the National Dating Abuse Hotline, and is designed to help teenagers with relationship issues. One of the biggest cons of online relationships, according to this organization, is communication.

    “It’s a little bit difficult when you’re in…an online relationship or a long distance relationship to maintain healthy communication,” Alex of Love is Respect said. [Love is Respect does not reveal staffers’ last names for security reasons.]  Alex says teens especially have face a risk when they go online. “There’s a bigger chance of miscommunication,” she says.

    Small believes that the appeal of online relationships begins with a person’s confidence.

    “They have confidence behind a computer screen or behind a phone,” Small said. “You can think about what you want to say.”

    Despite the struggles that may occur with online friendships, Helminger claims that the good outweighs the bad.

    “When somebody is a third party in your life instead of being directly your friend, they can see the situation better than anyone of your close friends can,” Helminger said.       

    Rockwell agrees that online relationships can sometimes be less complicated than the ones she has in the real world.

      “[Technology] has made it easier to talk with people outside the school and the state even,” Rockwell said. “I can talk to them about things that bother me.”

    One obstacle that people with online friends often face is the approval of their family and friends. Despite the mostly negative stigma behind online friendships, Helminger’s parents were completely on board.

    “[My parents] think it’s really cool,” Helminger said. “They like that I have a friend that is outside of the country.”

    Online communication has modified itself as technology changes.  From AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) to Direct Messaging (DM), the way people communicate is constantly evolving. Parents and grandparents may be familiar with pen pals and AIM, but teenagers today use constantly changing, different platforms of social media to connect.

       Small says that the app Snapchat and texting are what he sees as the two main aspects of communication for teenagers.

    “Dating websites, I don’t think are necessarily a hot topic in a teenagers life,” Small said.

    Despite the fact that not many teenagers use dating websites or apps, they should continue being careful and safe online, according to Small.

    Rockwell ensures her safety by keeping most of the details of her life private.

    “I’m pretty safe about it. I don’t tell them where I live,” Rockwell said. “I don’t tell them my full name. I don’t feel the need to tell them.”

    Despite the negative stigma behind online friendships, both Rockwell and Helminger have managed to find and explore the good side of having friends thousands of miles away.

Love is Respect

     Love Is Respect, a project of the National Dating Abuse Hotline, is an organization geared towards teenagers. Their goal is to provide aid to teens in creating healthy relationships and identifying abusive relationship situations.

    “We talk to people about how to recognize abusive relationship red flags, but also methods for improving your relationships,” Alex [who could not reveal her last name for safety reasons] said.

    According to Love Is Respect, several red flags should be raised when meeting people online. Teens should be care about expressing love too quickly and finding things that don’t add up in what someone online has said.  Teens should also watch out for people asking for money or favors.

    “Look out for some of those same red flags that go with relationships in general,” Alex said.
    The organization says that it is all about guiding teenagers in the right direction with relationships and gaining back control over your relationships.

    “A big part of what I want to do is help you get your power back,” Alex said.