Parents fear that technology will ruin children’s ability to form deep relationships; however, recent findings show that teens feel empowered and connected by being online.
Teens and social media: the emotional impact
Today, social media use is nearly universal among teens. A 2018 Pew Research Centre survey of nearly 750 13- to 17-year-olds found that 45% are online almost constantly and 97% use a social media platform. Should we be concerned?
These key findings can help us decide.
- 71% feel included rather than excluded (25%) and 69% feel confident rather than insecure (26%).
- 60% of teens say they spend time with their friends online on a daily or nearly daily basis, and 77% say they spend time in online groups and forums. Teens themselves describe these platforms as a key tool for connecting and maintaining relationships, being creative, and learning more about the world.
- 81% of teens say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, with 37% saying it makes them feel ‘a lot’ more connected. About seven-in-ten teens say these sites make them feel more in touch with their friends’ feelings (69%).
- 69% say social networking sites help teens interact with people from different backgrounds, while a similar share credits social media with helping teens find different points of view (67%) or helping teens show their support for causes or issues (66%).
- 35% say they have a close friend who lives far away, while 15% say they have a close friend they first met online.
Some critics have argued that the internet and social media are to blame for teens’ diminishing real-life interactions. But teens themselves point to a variety of reasons for why they do not spend more time with their friends in person. The most common of these (cited by 41% of teens) is that teens themselves report they simply have too many other obligations to find time to hang out with friends. Meanwhile, 34% say their friends are too busy with their own obligations, and 32% say the difficulty of finding transportation prevents them from seeing their friends more often.
When you haven’t got a car, the internet brings you to your friends.
When life is too busy to schedule time to socialise, social media can give you pockets of hanging out and down time.
- 33% of teens note that it is simply easier to connect with a friend online than to attempt connecting with them physically.
- 74% say these groups play a role in exposing them to new types of people, including 31% who say online groups play a ‘major’ role in this regard.
- 68% of teens who belong to an online group say these communities make them feel more accepted, 65% say these communities help them figure out how to feel about important issues and 55% say that are helped with getting them through tough times in their life.
Teens credit the online platforms with several positive outcomes: strengthening friendships, exposing them to different viewpoints and helping people their age support causes they care about. Parents’ fears of the shadow side of the internet can sometimes blind them to the advantages. Perhaps the best we can do is to figure out how to guide our teens to harvest the benefits and avoid the harms of online life! How do you do that?
When you don’t yet have the freedoms of an adult and the world wide web connects you to people, gives you access to new ideas and enables you to make a difference, what’s not to like?