Teens Find Real Friends in the Online Jungle

Teens have been using digital media to create bonds that extend well beyond playing games like Call of Duty or engaging in spirited Twitter exchanges, according to a study Pew Research released Thursday.

Along with likes and shares and tags and retweets have come beefing, berating, trolling and blocking. Although a lot of social activity appears superficial, that’s not always the case.

About 57 percent of the respondents to Pew’s survey on teen interactions online indicated that they established a long-term friendship with someone they’d first encountered online, Pew reported.

“As a part of our previous study on privacy, we heard from teens about how much they were using these social platforms with friends and peers, and so we decided to investigate, said Amanda Lenhart, an associate director of research at Pew and author of the report.

Pew’s study offers interesting insights into how Web and mobile technologies continue to evolve as platforms for communications, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“The study is really about communication, and how kids adapt to and bend the limitations of technologies to accommodate their circles of friends and acquaintances,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That’s something kids have always done, and always will.”

Social Circle

The two most common venues for forging new online friendship were video games and social media, according to survey participants.

“Social media connects teens to friends in positive ways, even as it can also spark negative feelings and create pressures around online self-presentation,” Lenhart told TechNewsWorld. “Social media also plays a critical role in introducing teens to new friends and connecting them to their existing friend networks.”

About 76 percent of the survey respondents, who ranged from 13 to 17 years old, said they used social media. About 71 percent used it to interact with friends, and about 23 percent said they did so daily.

About 57 percent of all respondents reported having made at least one friend online, and about 64 percent of that group said they did so via social media.

“Social media helps teens feel more connected to their friends’ feelings and daily lives, and also offers teens a place to receive support from others during challenging times,” Lenhart noted.

Show Me Your Hands!

Video games are an important part of teen friendships — more so for boys than for girls, according to the Pew study. After social networks, the video game category sparked the most online friendships.

Besides all the pwning and rekking and heckling newbies to git gud, there’s the requisite gg (good game) as gamers recap whatever map or round they just played.

However, girls are more likely than boys to make new friends via social media — 72 percent vs. 52 percent.

Friends met online may not be friends in the traditional sense, though.

Only about 20 percent of survey participants who had made friends online reported meeting an online friend in the real world.

“When they do, they use tools like video chat to vet people before meeting them,” said Lenhart. “Often these are friends of friends.”

No Shelter From the Fallout

While it may seem that video games and other online media could offer an escape from reality, real-world pressures follow teens to Twitter or Battlefieldor Minecraft — or most anywhere online where they encounter other individuals, Pew found.

Although “social media connects teens to friends’ feelings and experiences, the sharing that occurs on these platforms can have negative consequences,” Lenhart said.

About 88 percent of the teen survey participants who used social media believed people share too much information online, Pew found. About 21 percent of that group said they felt worse about themselves because of content they found on social media, and about 40 percent felt they should only share information that would boost their public image.

Of course, there’s plenty of drama online.

About 68 percent of teenage users of social media — about 52 percent of all teens — have had to deal with drama within their social networks, the Pew research suggests.

About 26 percent of them have had conflicts with real-world friends as a result of something that happened online, based on the survey.

Despite the hard times, social media use and video gaming continue to trend upward.

As the Internet matures, it’s interesting to see how teens have adapted to what could be deemed “the abstraction of online friendships,” said Pund-IT’s King.

It’s almost like a modernization of the pen pal, he added.

“On the negative side, manual processes like texting or constantly logging into social sites can be an incredible distraction from school and family responsibilities,” King remarked. “Then again, my parents would have said the same thing about the hours I spent on the phone with my friends.”

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