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What is ‘pebbling,’ the new social media love language inspired by penguins?

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Some humans are taking their relationship cues from penguins.

A social media trend called “pebbling” involves sending memes, videos or links to a person to connect or show affection, according to some experts.

The name was inspired by Gentoo penguins, known for leaving pebbles in the nests of their mates as a form of affection, social media influencers have claimed.

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“Sending memes, links and videos to others isn’t trivial — it signals that you’re thinking of them and want them to share your joy,” Dr. Adam Grant, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, wrote on his X account. 

“It’s known as pebbling, based on penguins gifting pebbles to potential partners,” he went on. “Pebbling is an act of care. Every pebble is a bid for connection.”

Teen and woman texting

A relationship trend called “pebbling” involves sending memes, videos or links to a person to connect or show affection, according to some relationship experts. (iStock)

Fox News Digital reached out to Grant for further comment.

Some young couples told Fox News Digital that pebbling leads to further connection and is a unique way to let their significant others know they are thinking of them.

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Abby and Cooper, a young couple in their 20s from Maryland, told Fox News Digital that pebbling is a fun, easy way to express affection. (They declined to share their last names for privacy reasons.)

A child holds an iPhone at an Apple store on Sept. 25, 2015 in Chicago.

The new “pebbling” trend on social media is based on penguins dropping off pebbles with potential partners, a psychologist said. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

“I send Instagram Reels to Abby when it relates to something she’s done in the past … I also send TikToks about murder mystery shows and cute animals to spark her interest,” Cooper told Fox News Digital.

The young couple said pebbling helps them stay connected when they are apart.

“Pebbling is an act of care. Every pebble is a bid for connection.”

“I’ll always send Coop new restaurants I see or foods and recipes I want to try,” Abby told Fox News Digital.

“And it’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, let’s try this,’ but it also brings us closer because it means we can go and do it together. And we both love food … so you can never go wrong with a food meme or TikTok.”

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In addition to serving as a love language shared between couples, pebbling can also bridge connections between adults and their children, relationship experts told Fox News Digital.

“Sharing memes and online reels in a family group chat is a wonderful way to foster connection with teens during times when face-to-face communication between parents and their children wanes and becomes more tricky,” Christine MacInnis, a licensed family therapist in Torrance, California, told Fox News Digital.

woman texting

Sharing memes, links, GIFs or videos gives parents the opportunity to show their children that they’re thinking of them, an expert noted. (CyberGuy.com)

“It is less intense and feels safer to kids who grew up in a digital age,” she added.

Sharing short video clips can create a commonality between two people, the therapist said. 

MacInnis’ 17-year-old daughter said she enjoys this form of connection with her family

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“I enjoy sharing Tik Toks back and forth because it’s a funnier, more advanced way of communicating,” the teen said in a text to Fox News Digital.

Pebbling has also been an effective communication tool used in the neurodivergent community, social workers told Fox News Digital. 

African penguin chicks at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

Two African penguin chicks are seen in their enclosure at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The name of the pebbling trend was apparently inspired by penguins leaving pebbles at the nests of their mates as a form of affection. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“Deriving its long-standing and well-documented success in the neurodivergent community — and more recently used to describe demonstrative gestures within other types of relationships, such as dating and friendship — pebbling also has the potential to enhance communication among parents and their teens,” Dr. Elissa Giffords, a licensed clinical social worker and professor and director of Long Island University’s Social Work Program in Brookville, New York, told Fox News Digital via email.

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Sharing memes, links, GIFs or videos gives parents the opportunity to show their children that they are thinking of them, she noted. 

“Even if their children roll their eyes or consider what was received as goofy, the basic ‘I am thinking about you’ message is conveyed,” Giffords said. 

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While pebbling can help parents demonstrate affection, empathy and concern in moderation, the timing and quantity of the messages are important, too, the expert cautioned.

“Sharing memes and online reels … is a wonderful way to foster connection with teens during times when face-to-face communication becomes more tricky.”

Parents should be mindful of not overdoing it when offering their ‘pebbles,’” Giffords said.

Used intentionally, pebbling could become an activity that both parties enjoy and could provide an opportunity for a later discussion, she added.

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“It might be hard for some people because there’s less communication involved if you are always sending memes instead of talking in person,” one woman noted.

While pebbling can help build a stronger connection in a relationship, it should not be the only form of communication between the two people, said couples and parents to Fox News Digital.

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