How and Where Do Teens Make Friends Online These Days?

Ask a teen template

Smartphones and the internet have changed the way adults interact with their friends, but for most teens, relationships that are “extremely online” have been the norm for as long as they can remember. (Even 19-year-olds, at the oldest end of the teen spectrum, were only in 2nd or 3rd grade when the first iPhone was released.) So, I asked 73 teens about how they make and maintain their friendships online. From Instagram comments (largely performative, but still important) to scouting for new friends on Pinterest (it’s possible!), keeping scrolling to read more straight from the teens, in their own words.

They make online friends anywhere and everywhere

“I met a friend on Pinterest (strangely) bc we liked the same style boards, films, etc. I remember I was terrified because I always had this thought that it may be some of my friends from school messing with me, because we talked and gave each other advice on dating and boys.” —Julia, 19, Chicago

“I’ve had some ‘online-only’ friendships that started in middle school where we all met because we had One Direction stan accounts on Twitter. I feel like most of my online friendships still start because of a shared interest in pop culture or something pop-culture adjacent. Most of our communication is through interacting with each other’s tweets.” —Alex, 18, Los Angeles

“I’m in Facebook groups like ‘a group where we all pretend to be boomers’ (lol) and there are people there who I find interesting but haven’t really DM’d because those groups often have a rule that you shouldn’t DM anyone unless they explicitly agree beforehand.” —Andrea, 17, Mexico City

“I have had ‘online-only’ friends before, but they never worked out. We met because we were going to the same university, but I never really felt like I could truly express myself through purely text. When reading a text, especially from someone you’ve never met before, the reader could interpret the text in a million ways.” —Angelica, 18, San Diego

“I have some friends I’ve met on Club Penguin, lol. We added each other on Snapchat and now we have a group chat there.” —Ans, 16, Atlanta

“I met a friend in the comments of a YouTube video about mental health. I responded to a comment about dealing with anorexia and just said, ‘If you ever need a random person to talk to, DM me on Instagram.’ A couple months later, out of the blue, someone reached out. We ended up becoming very close friends. We chatted about every other day for probably half a year.” —Arianna, 16, Toronto

Snapchat and Instagram are where IRL friends keep in touch

“With my best friends, it’s usually Snapchat, which I keep pretty private. On Instagram, I always like and comment on my close friends’ posts to hype them up. Commenting things like ‘icon’ and ‘that’s my best friend’ just cheers your besties up.” —Bella, 16, Los Angeles

“Instagram: DM funny memes, and comment on their pictures. Snail mail is always fun— I send my friends postcards whenever I travel.” —Chaya, 17, Brooklyn

“My two best friends and I Snapchat constantly and at least once a week we ‘FaceTime’ each other with the Snapchat call feature.” —Nina, 19, Nashville

“Usually Instagram or Snapchat. I usually comment on their posts to hype them up, and only really use DMs to send memes and posts about Timothée Chalamet.” —Sabine, 18, New York

Most teens wish they had more in-person hangouts

“I see my friends every day for multiple hours so I don’t think it gets any better than that.” —Chrysa, 18, Athens, Greece

“Yes! I would prefer IRL convos, but I’m in a long-distance relationship and in long-distance best-friendships, so digital communication is essential. I make an effort to call on the phone regularly though.” —Alice, 19, London

“Please! Give! Me! Real! Life! Friends! It’s hard to motivate myself to go outside, hard to match energy levels, hard to make friends even if you are at college in the city. But bitch I want someone to care about! Be able to see them when I want! Have dinners, sleepovers, etc. It’s like a lost art.” —Catherine, 19, New York City

“With my girlfriends I am happy with the ratio, but sometimes I feel like boys are a lot quicker to Snap then to have a conversation in person.” —Lulu, 15, Brooklyn

“I’m happy with my current ratio, but I wish I did get more time with my IRL friends. Everyone has clubs and sports and studying and other friends to attend to, so sometimes it can get lonely.” —Ayjia, 15, New York City

Some public figures are so good at social they feel like real friends

“I love Ashley from Best Dressed on YouTube. She’s a fashion vlogger who also talks about her experience growing up with advice for teens. All of her videos are super casual, like she’s an older sister or friend giving truthful and real advice.” —Margot, 16, Pound Ridge, NY

“My friend and I keep very updated on this Italian villa that posts beautiful photos on Instagram (@masseriamoroseta). It’s not a person, but we talk about it as if we’re going to stay there tomorrow. What did they serve for breakfast? Is it too cold to swim there today? Maybe we’re ridiculous.” —Lilah, 19, New York City

Jaboukie on Twitter! I feel like he and his followers have a really casual relationship.” —Alex, 18, Los Angeles

“I follow Busy Phillips, she shares a lot of details about her life and uploads to her Instagram story daily, through this I feel strangely close to her.” —Jane, 18, Los Angeles

Elizabeth Warren. I just want to give her a hug every time I see something of hers on my feed. I know it’s a campaign manager or whatever posting but her ability to reach those on social media is truly game changing, and every post seems sincere.” —Margo, 17, Texarkana

“Literally Harling Ross and Leandra Medine. I LIVE for a week in review. I feel like if I ever saw either one of them on the streets I would give an overabundantly joyful ‘HEY!’” —Emma, 17, Gulf Breeze

The standards for who gets “close friends” status on Instagram are subjective

“I’ve never created a close friends tab on my Instagram because it feels weird! And sometimes cliquey.” —Lyla, 17, Minneapolis

“My best friend, my sister (when she’s being nice to me), and a couple friends that I see during the summer. No one from high school!!” —Alma, 19, New York City

“I have a finsta, so I use that instead of using the close friends feature.” —Hannah, 19, Seattle

“Close friends IRL, and boys I like if I want to show them my elite meme taste.” —Lulu, 15, Brooklyn

“People I talk to a lot in my classes, my childhood friends, cousins, and crushes.” —Ayjia, 15, New York City

“Literally only people I would die for (who won’t show my mom).” —Lailah, 19, San Diego

It doesn’t take much to feel love from friends online

“I feel super cared for when I post something about feeling bad and someone messages me about it. I feel like doing so means that they are accepting and acknowledging my vulnerability, especially since it’s so easy to ignore online.” —Julia, 19, Chicago

“When they text me or share their everyday life with me on Snapchat.” —Emma, 15, Roskilde

“When they send me cute animal pictures after I’ve had a rough day.” —Nadia, 17, Pasadena

“I guess I feel most loved when people post for my birthday. Someone is taking the time out of their day to recognize me, which makes me feel so special and loved. I wish I could really show how much their action means to me.” —Yonah, 16, Newton, MA

“When they post pictures with me.” —Chaya, 17, Brooklyn

“When they send me random memes or videos from their explore page, because it means they are thinking of me and care.” —Gemma, 16, San Francisco

Ask a Teen identity by Coco Lashar.

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