Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friendships in the digital age

Some years ago at a previous school I had the misfortune to have to attend PD given by a presenter/consultant whose message was basically that using technology will leave you sad and lonely.  If I had been at a conference, instead of at a required school PD, I would certainly have left the presentation at that point.  However given the circumstances, it was certainly not something that I was able to do, especially as the following day I had to interview this guest to the school for a video that was to be posted on the school website.

Last week a new study was published by the Pew Research Center that completely contradicted this "bad science".  This study of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 shows that different forms of technology can help young people to make friends and to maintain existing friendships.  The findings totally refute claims that social media contributes to harassment, depression, anxiety and loneliness and that gaming exacerbates aggression, hinders the development of a child's brain and their social skills, and causes ADHD.

Technology has improved over the past few years.  For example now teenagers can connect with each other on "safe" sites such as Facebook where they have a closed network of friends, as opposed to chatrooms where anyone can join and talk to anyone else.  Research from Pew also shows that gaming has become a leading social networking tool, especially for boys, where they can actually develop their social skills.  Almost 90% of gamers play games with people they already know and are friends with in real life, and 78% of these report feeling more connected to these friends.  The study also shows that some friendships can start digitally, though only 20% of all teens later go on to meet their online friend in person.

Here are some findings from the repot:
  • Making online friends:  boys are more likely to do this than girls, and older teens are more likely to do this than younger teens. Boys are more likely to make friendships online while playing games.  Girls are more likely to make friends via social media.
  • Texting:  55% of teens spend time every day texting with their friends.  The majority of teens also spend time with their friends outside of school, but mostly this is not an every day occurrence.  Texting is the dominant way teens, in particular girls, communicate on a day-to-day basis with their friends.
  • Gaming: 84% of boys play video games as compared with 59% of girls.  They play games with friends they know in person as well as those who they only know online.  Around half of these people they play games with online are not regarded by teens as their friends.
  • Social media:  Around 76% of 13 to 17 year olds use social media.  Teens report that this makes them feel more connected to their friends, and that this is a place where they get support during challenging times.  One negative point is that sharing can veer into oversharing, and there can be pressure on teens to keep up an attractive and popular image.
  • Phones:  are still used by 85% of teens for talking to their closest friends.
If you would like to read the whole report, I'm providing a link to it here.

Photo Credit: garryknight via Compfight cc

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