Ask an expert: Is it normal that my daughter’s in a relationship that’s entirely online?

My 13-year-old daughter has a boyfriend she’s never met – they just communicates online. It seems weird to me – is this normal these days?

Pyschologist and Internet Matters (internetmatters.org) ambassador, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, says: “For younger teens, communicating with a boy/girlfriend online may feel safer or more familiar. It’s important that we don’t forget they’re used to communicating with their friends through social media, and as such, the familiarity will be comforting, and also not having to meet up might help socially anxious kids avoid something they fear.

“One of the best things about communicating online is that children who are physically isolated due to living too far away, or who have limited transport or curfews, are still engaging socially – and that is incredibly important.

“They can get support from their peers online and connect about their idiosyncratic interests, whatever that may be, from stamp-collecting to reading. Parents need to be careful not to minimalise that relationship, as they’ll get something from it and they’re comfortable with it.

“I don’t think you should worry at this point. However, if you find this becomes a trend, where you daughter only feels comfortable communicating online, then that’s something that needs to be addressed, by increasing social interaction skills and addressing social anxiety.

“You can do this by increasing the amount of time your child spends interacting face-to-face, not only with friends but with other people in different contexts. For example, if she were to join a sports team, volunteer and spend time with people of different ages, as age-segregation can amplify social anxiety.

“Encourage her to call a relative – a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, anything to ensure she’s speaking to someone of a different age. Do something that allows your child to get out of their comfort zone, such as volunteering at their local charity shop where they have to talk to strangers. It means they’re going to feel much more able to interact socially.”


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