Middle School Relationships in the Age of the iPhone

Nervous looks. Passing notes. Gossip around the lunch table. The middle school relationship is an iconic coming-of-age staple that has remained unchanged for decades. But smartphones and apps have fundamentally transformed how kids, you know, “like-like” each other. The youths of Gen Z are communicating more than any generation before them, while simultaneously cutting off human connection at the thumbs. So what does this cocktail produce? We consulted with current and recent middle-schoolers about what it’s like to “hang out” in the age of the iPhone.

What’s In

Instagram

“Instagram is to remind that person you went to camp with three years ago that you are still pretty, or for guys to follow and see if it’s worth it to DM you.” It all starts here. Slide into the direct messages of your crush—it’s the new passing notes. Post those pictures you curated perfectly with captions subtle enough to make potential suitors wonder if you’re talking about them. When you’re tired of talk and gather up the courage, ask for their Snapchat handle.

Snapchat

“On Snapchat is where ‘DLing’ is pretty frequent. DLing is when you’re with someone and you hook up with other people but don’t tell anyone.” Kids flirting with photos that conveniently disappear, what could go wrong? (Don’t worry though: You still don’t have to talk—or even look at each other—at school.) Without parents or other kids able to see what you’re doing in there, things can escalate quickly. If your relationship is “lowkey,” Snap is where it’ll stay. If you want to “be a thing,” you’ve got to get old school.

Text

“Texting is more personal because I’m not going to give my number to just anyone.” Yes, the phone number is still sacred. Now your thumbs can fly in conversation all day long. The relationship likely still remains a secret, and you have no idea how many other people they’re doing this with, but that’s not anxiety inducing or anything. Right?! This is also where relationships can die. Breaking up over text isn’t a faux pas, it’s normal.

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What’s Out

Human Connection

Kids—and most adults—are of course more bold via text than they would be otherwise. If you have an app intermediary, why muster up the courage to hold someone’s hand when you can go so much further from a safe distance? Because these interactions aren’t on public display, it’s impossible to tell how many of these relationships one kid might have. And lest you might think human connection is a skill they’ll have to learn someday, look around. Thanks to the dawn of dating apps, they won’t be needing that courage as adults either.

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This article appears in the April issue. Subscribe now.

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