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Teens Prefer Online Friends, New Study Reports

Social media is has been touted as a means of connecting the world via the internet, but the rise of digital connectivity may in fact be diminishing real life interactions between humans. Instead of acting as a catalyst for actual meetings, social media has become an alternate reality where you can make and maintain friendships without any actual, face-to-face contact. As a new Pew Research Centre study entitled 'Teens, Technology, and Friendships' has shown, today’s teens actually prefer making friends online rather than in real life.

The new trend raises a number of questions. How has the rising prevalence of social media altered the definition of friendship? Now, being connected to another human being doesn’t require any sort of physicality. How well can you really get to know someone based purely on digital interactions?

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More than half of the 1,060 teens taking part in the study, published last week, have made at least one friend online. 57% of American teens ages 13 to 17 said they have made one friend online, with 29% having made more than 5. Most of these friendships are confined to the digital space – only 20% of all teens have met an online friend in person, versus 77% who have not.

83% of teens say that sites like Facebook and Instagram help them to feel more connected with friends’ lives. Just 25% spend time with friends in person on a daily basis. Texting is the dominant platform teens use to communicate with friends; 55% text their friends daily. 14% use instant messaging venues like WhatsApp on a daily basis.

Texting is the most common way teens get in touch with ‘close friends’. Almost half say that text messaging (including messaging apps) is their first choice of platform for communicating with their best friend. 20% choose social media sites; 6% say video games are their first choice.

Girls were found to be more likely to chat online with friends daily via text messaging, instant messaging and social media. Boys prefer connecting with friends via video gaming. 84% say that online gaming helps them to feel more connected to friends when they play together, versus 62% of girls. 34% of boy gamers play with friends online daily, compared with only 16% in person. David Cole, head of digital media analysts DFC Intelligence, said that communication in games has grown over the past 10 to 15 years, as quoted by the New York Times. Online multiplayer games like Halo and the massively popular World of Warcraft have led this revolution.  

Amanda Lenhart, director of research at Pew, said that the results of the study have helped to unpack some adult assumptions that children are ‘wasting their time’ with social media. But even as social media connects teens to their friends, it can also have negative consequences. 29% have felt negative feelings about their own life because of what their friends post on social media. Teens also experience pathological pressure to project an attractive and flattering image on social media that makes them look good to others (40%) or be popular (39%).

Separate studies have linked social media with depression and envy. Using Facebook and other social media sites to spy on friends may have a negative effect on mental health, says a study from the University of Missouri. When Facebook is used to compare your achievements or levels of happiness with those of friends, it can cause negative feelings of envy and depression. ‘Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation for using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would post only positive things about themselves,’ said Dr Edson Tandoc, who co-authored the 2015 study.

In the past, a lot of attention has been paid to the pathologies that can arise from teens’ use of digital tools, from fears about online predators and bullying to the allure and distractions of screen-based life, states the Pew report. But less attention has been paid to how digital media has been integrated into the fundamentals of their social and emotional lives, particularly where the arc of friendships are concerned.

Aaron Waterhouse

Aaron is a recent English graduate from Durham University who is now working as a content writer intern. An enthusiastic traveller, he hopes to become a journalist and report from around the world. Follow him @AaronAtSMF.

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Teens Prefer Online Friends, New Study Reports Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, August 14, 2015 Rating: 5

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