Citation: Taba M, Lewis L, Cooper Spring C, Albury K, Chung Kon Shing K, Lim M, Bateson D, Kang M, Skinner RS (2020) What adolescents think of relationship portrayals on social media: a qualitative study. Sexual Health 17, 467-474.



Background: Understanding the factors influencing adolescents’ relationship views is important because early romantic relationships often act as precursors for relationships in adulthood. This study sought to examine the types of relationship-focused content adolescents witness on social media and how they perceive its effect on their romantic relationship beliefs. 

Methods: Sixteen semistructured interviews were conducted with Australian adolescents aged 16–19 years who were purposively sampled from a larger longitudinal study. Interview transcripts were analysed qualitatively using constructivist grounded theory. 

Results: Participants described the types of romantic relationship portrayals they saw on social media, including relationship-focused trends like ‘Relationship Goals’ and ‘Insta-Couples’. Participants explained their ability to identify incomplete and unrealistic relationship portrayals, as well as the pressure to share their relationships online in the same incomplete fashion. Views regarding the influence of social media were varied, but most believed social media relationship portrayals had some level of influence on young people’s relationship views; some participants believed this occurred regardless of awareness of the incompleteness of the online portrayal. 

Conclusions: Although participant interview data revealed the pervasiveness of social media relationship portrayals, it also revealed the sophisticated capabilities of adolescents in critiquing online media portrayals.

About The Authors


Rachel Skinner is Clinical Stream Medical Director - Priority Populations and Senior Staff Specialis...

  Associate Professor  

Melissa Kang is an Associate Professor in Public Health at the University of Technology Sydney, and ...