Lovers' lane paved with online rejections

These days, a lot of young romantics are getting off the hook the easy way. Rather than deal with the messy emotions of breaking off a relationship in person or over the phone, a lot of teens are calling it quits with an instant message. You could call it efficient — or maybe something else.

In a study of US teenagers' online habits conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 17 % of teens who use IM said they had used it to ask for a date — and 13 % had used it to break off a relationship. With over 12.5 million teenagers estimated to be using IM, that's more than 1.6 million young hearts broken while staring at an emoticon.

It shouldn't surprise us, really. Of the almost 75 % of US teens who go online, about the same percentage routinely use IM to correspond with friends. They also use it to initiate friendships. So, naturally, they use IM to end relationships. But what's troubling is that they break off their most emotional relationships in, well, the least emotionally involved way :(.

More mature behavior

The Pew study also found that older teens were less likely to break off relations with an IM than younger teens. A sign of maturity? Maybe. The study didn't explore whether older teens are using a more personal touch to break up, like making a phone call or meeting in person. It's possible that a lot of older teens are just learning the adult art of the "CU later" email.

In the whirligig of online dating, breaking up via email is mainstream. In fact, the breakup email is almost four times as popular with adults as the sayonara IM is with teens. I thought it was the kids who were setting trends by taking to the Internet like fish to water. Who's imitating who?

According to a survey of more than 4,000 single adults, almost half of them have sent and/or received a breakup email. No IM for these pros; that's kid stuff. IM apps show when you're online. Why let your newly minted ex know you're logged on? Your IM window might quickly fill up with a barrage of teary pleas or, worse yet, a nasty list of your shortcomings. Real time is overrated.

Teens recognise that they use IM to protect themselves from socially awkward situations. They understand that instant messages don't convey all that a human voice can, even if the words are the same. That's why 71 % of IM-using teens primarily use the phone to communicate with friends. But sometimes they want that shield so they can let their guard down. More than a third of IM-using teens told the Pew study that they had used IM to tell somebody things they wouldn't have said to the person's face. This can be a temptation for mean kids to be meaner. But if it frees a teen from embarrassment to discuss personal feelings that otherwise would be bottled up, that's positive. I doubt many adults think their adolescence could have benefited from more embarrassing moments.

For the teens who are howling mad and broken-hearted over being dumped with an instant message, maybe IM can make them feel a little better. As for the teens who dumped them, grow up.

Next time, send an email.

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