Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Relationship issues in an online age

December 11, 2013

Q.I don’t get it. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost six months. We’re exclusive. I trust him, he trusts me. Then why won’t he put “in a relationship” on his Facebook page? And why aren’t any pics of me on Facebook? He says he doesn’t care about Facebook, that it’s for kids and we’re in college now so forget it. I told him Facebook started for college people, and most of my family is on it. It’s an excuse. He posts other things, like the fact that he got a 4.0 in his major, although he doesn’t post all that much. Otherwise he’s a great partner.

19-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response: I’ve been answering young people’s questions since the ’80s. As I prepared to respond to you, I pondered the reality of social media as a very real part of young lives. When I began the Teen Outreach your question wasn’t possible.

The advent of social media sites like Facebook made relationships public. I often remind my students what “public” means. If you wouldn’t put information on TV, on a public billboard, on your face as a pop-up mask or in the hands of your teachers, parents and employers, you shouldn’t post it on social media. Once posted, the pictures and thoughts are in the public domain. Anyone has access.

Your question is a question within a question. I think you’re really asking if you matter to your boyfriend. Posting “in a relationship” is important to you. Does it validate the relationship? Is it the modern equivalent of meeting parents or spending time with friends? Does it make a relationship official and signify the exclusivity you mentioned? Your boyfriend seems to believe a posting of your relationship status is insignificant. If he is a great partner in every other way, is there a reason you’re concerned?

Your concern about pictures may reveal another worry. Are you afraid your boyfriend isn’t faithful? Or do you fear he is not proud of you?

Many young people are cautious about their Facebook postings, for obvious reasons. If he only posts academic accomplishments, he may be screening information. He may be a private person. On the other hand, your concerns are very real to you and should be honored.

We may live in a high-tech world, but basic face-to-face communication is still vital to a healthy relationship. Talk with your boyfriend. Share your concerns. Tell him how you feel. Listen to his responses. When he realizes how much posting “in a relationship” means to you, he may understand. If he provides a response that eases your anxiety, no worries. If he doesn’t “hear” your concerns or minimizes your fear, you may need to evaluate your relationship. Does he spend time with your family and friends? Is your relationship kept a secret in real life? Or is his reluctance limited to Facebook? If he hides the relationship, if you feel uneasy and jealous, or if you’re not able to negotiate and collaborate in your relationship, you may be in an unhealthy situation.

Speak with him as soon as possible. Dwelling on tension without sharing can fester and hurt relationships. Good luck.

Q.I’m not allowed on Facebook because my mom says I’m too young, but everyone I know is on it. What do you think? I’d be careful.

11-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response: In order to create an account for Facebook you must be 13. Although you are correct and many younger-aged individuals have their own Facebook pages, they are breaking the rules.

I agree with your mom. Waiting to drive requires one reach the age of 16. Waiting to drink in Pennsylvania requires one reach the age of 21. Rules exist and should be obeyed. Listen to your mom. She’s trying to protect you and prepare you for life.

Facebook and other social media sites invite drama, allow for cyberbullying and require mature use of the site. I personally know young people who regret online postings. Give yourself time to grow up.



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