Breaking Up Is So Very Hard to Do, Except on Facebook

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Online Dating: 'New Spectator Sport'

Corcoran said Boston's public health initiative is about "prevention, prevention, prevention."

"What our teens see and point out is that online relationships are the new spectator sport," he said. "Everyone gets to have opinions and comments on something that, in fact, should be dealt with between two people."

"The program helps them think about their online lives and how it impacts other people," said Corcoran. "Hopefully, in friends and dating, it will make them more thoughtful in how they treat people online and offline."

The program is sponsored by a national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships."Though its focus is primarily on 11- to 14-year-olds, the break-up summit reached out to their "influencers" -- high school students.

"We want to equip them with as many healthy real life skills before they get into a relationship," said Corcoran.

The second annual conference was led primarily by teens themselves, peer leaders who had undergone extensive summer training and work 10 hours a week during the school year in city youth centers.

"I think it's important that everyone know about healthy break-up skills, because it hasn't been discussed," said Mileena Torres, one of the summit's teen leaders. "Both people feel comfortable, communicate, respect and trust each other."

"If you have the option of face-to-face, instead of the easy way out, both people get closure in a relationship," said Torres, 17, who will be a senior at Boston Latin high school. "We see that texting break-ups are common. We don't want to see the person and we want it to be over with and send a quick message and it's done. But the other person gets the feeling of unfinished business."

They warn that, in the case of an abusive relationship, face-to-face should not be used.

"We understand safety is the number one priority for anybody," she said.

"We see a lot of teens breaking up via text message or Facebook and it's very public unless you do it in the inbox," she said. "If you change your relationship status, everybody sees it and can comment or 'like' it, and it can be problematic if you see a friend likes that you broke up with the girl."

The summit provided the teens with a rating system illustrated with cell phone bars: 5, for a face-to-face break-up, which allows for body language, tone of voice and privacy; 4, via cell phone which lacks the visual; 3, by email, which is still private; 2 by text, which limits characters; and 1 on Facebook, where you "shout it to the world."

All participants also received a button with a little broken heart -- "Face It, Don't Facebook It."

But not all teens are naysayers about breaking up on Facebook. Melissa Ng's 16-year-old brother, William, said a public split can be comforting.

"One of my friends broke up on Facebook," he said. "They had been dating for maybe six months and then, all of a sudden, it ended and both changed their relationship status. Everyone was commenting, making them feel better. They were going through a hard time. They said, 'It's OK,' and, 'Want to call me and talk about it?'"

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