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My 15-year-old son has his first girlfriend. Unlike when I was a teen, 'hanging out' often just means talking on the phone at home.

Stephanie Kaloi   

My 15-year-old son has his first girlfriend. Unlike when I was a teen, 'hanging out' often just means talking on the phone at home.
  • My teenage son has his first girlfriend at the age of 15.
  • Dating is much different now from when I was a teenager.

When it comes to teen relationships and dating, I'm only too happy to admit that I don't know much about any of it. When my peers were hooking up at parties and stealing kisses in corners at school and having sex, I was fresh out of my boy band phase and into my rock 'n' roll phase, busy planning a fantasy wedding to Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher and being far too introverted to actually find and speak to a boy my own age.

So when my son began talking about girls a few years ago, I was surprised and intrigued — and also happy that he appeared to have the social ease I lacked and would likely enter into a rite of passage I missed out on entirely (though I've never been convinced that's a bad thing). I've only had two real relationships in my life, so I've also wondered just how much advice I can really give him about dating in the first place.

Now that he has a girlfriend, it's so far turned out that he's not really looking for advice — after all, teens often think they know everything. However, he is happy to talk about his feelings and the nature of high school relationships in the first place (six months is a really, really long time for one to last, he says). Through those conversations, I've learned that while the core of teen love and feelings is still the same as it ever was, the way relationships between teens play out in 2024 is pretty different.

Communication is different

Obviously, cellphones and then smartphones changed the game in a lot of ways. For some of us, nearly everything we do is different because of a small device we can hold in our hands. We consume media differently, have different attention spans, and the way we communicate has changed.

I've been surprised to see how much my son's relationships (whether platonic or otherwise) have played out over his phone — texting and memes rule the day. It strikes me as different from what I remember at that age. Sure, I could definitely spend some time on the phone, but I also always wanted to physically spend time with friends, which doesn't seem to be as big of a priority with teens now.

Hangouts aren't what they used to be

When I was a teen, I often wanted nothing more than to be away from my own home. I was constantly at my best friend's house, or we were driving around aimlessly, listening to music, doing anything that meant we were together.

My son and his friends often "hang out" for hours at a time, too, but they do so separately, at their own homes, often over the phone or through an online game. This is likely a consequence of the prolonged pandemic, and forced separation has turned into a preference.

This is true for his relationship as well. While they might see each other once a week or once every other week, neither of them seems to mind — and maybe that's a good thing after all. Who wants two bored teens who are attracted to one another hanging out alone for hours with nothing to do?

Having a relationship is (apparently) novel in the first place

I was surprised to learn that teen relationships are something of a dying trend in the United States, though I'm probably not the only one. According to a study, American teens are less likely than previous generations to take part in so-called "adult" activities, like being employed, drinking alcohol, and dating.

This data was echoed by findings from the Survey Center on American Life, which reported only 56% of Gen Z adults (the generation that my son belongs to) said they had any kind of romantic relationship in their teens, a drop from 69% of millennials, 76% of Gen X, and 78% of baby boomers.

One reason I was surprised to find teens aren't dating as much is that my son and his friends have been talking about being in relationships for years — well before they were actually ready to do so — and I just assumed all teens were the same way. Since most of his friends have also begun relationships or already had their first break-up, it seems they also have a pretty laid-back approach to how long a relationship should last at this stage in their lives, which makes that fervor from long ago pretty funny to look back on.

Whatever does or doesn't happen with my son's relationship, it's fun to go on the ride with him, largely as an observer, and to witness him beginning to step into a safe version of adulthood before he's really out in the world. As his mom, it's always my priority to hear and support him no matter what and to help him navigate each path he takes — and this one is no different.

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