Friendship 2.0: Teens' technology use promotes sense of belonging, identity

October 22, 2012 by Molly Mcelroy

(Medical Xpress)—With adolescents seemingly glued to cell phones and social networking websites, experts are investigating whether the near-constant digital activity changes youths' development.

A new study from the University of Washington shows that digital media helps teens reach , such as fostering a sense of belonging and sharing personal problems. But the study also raised questions about whether digital connectedness might hinder the development of an autonomous sense of self.

Katie Davis, an assistant professor in the Information School and an expert on digital media use during adolescence, calls it "Friendship 2.0."

"What they're doing is different from generations of teenagers from before the digital era, but it comes from the same place of basic developmental needs. It's just that they're using different tools to satisfy these needs," said Davis.

She is the author of a study on the role of digital media in adolescent and sense of identity, an important factor in psychological well-being. The study will be published in the November issue of the .

Davis interviewed 32 , aged 13 to 18 and about an even mix of boys and girls, living on the island of Bermuda where teens have similar digital media habits as teenagers in the United States. She asked them about how they use media to communicate with friends, and came up with an inventory of their media use:

  • 94 percent have cell phones.
  • 53 percent have Internet-enabled cell phones.
  • 91 percent have Facebook profiles.
  • 78 percent use online instant messaging, such as , or .
  • 94 percent use YouTube.
  • 9 percent use Twitter.
These percentages are similar to what Davis found when she surveyed 2,079 youths living in Bermuda, an affluent British-dependent territory located about 640 miles off the coast of South Carolina. Though more Bermudian teens use and own cell phones than , Davis says that her findings from the island where she grew up and worked as a school teacher can provide insights on U.S. teens because the two countries share cultural ties and the role of digital media in teens' lives is similar in both places.

Davis asked about the content of their digital conversations and analyzed 200 examples shared by the teens. Casual chatter about homework or what they did that day occurred three times more than intimate conversations about feelings or problems.

Looking more closely at the casual exchanges, Davis found that friends stay connected through frequent check-ins, sharing something funny that happened or asking what they're up to or how they're doing. These off-the-cuff conversations can last throughout the day, with breaks for going to class or having dinner.

Most – 68 percent – of check-ins occur on Facebook, and include groups of friends commenting on photos or YouTube videos. Nearly half of the participants in the survey talked about posting photos of themselves with their friends and then tagging their friends, allowing them to discuss a shared experience and promote a sense of belonging to a circle of friends.

Intimate exchanges, discussed by 69 percent of participants – usually girls – included how they were feeling, whether they were having a bad day or other problems that they hoped to get their friends' help with. Youths, especially those describing themselves as shy or quiet, said that it was easier to share these personal thoughts digitally than in person. Some felt typing rather than speaking their feelings gave them more control.

Some participants considered the ability to connect anytime and anywhere with their friends to be not just convenient, but necessary to stay up-to-date and to avoid feeling isolated or being left out of group activities.

"Adolescents are interacting with their peers constantly, and the question arises as to whether they can still develop an autonomous sense of self," Davis said. This isn't known yet, but she suspects that this constant connectivity may support the development of an outward-looking self, one that looks to others for affirmation rather relying on an internal sense of worth and efficacy.

"Relying on others for self-affirmation suggests a relatively fragile sense of self, but our study doesn't say for sure that that is what is going on," Davis said. "What we can say is that adolescents are using to promote their sense of belonging and self-disclosure of , two important peer processes that support identity development."

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S0140197112000334

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017
Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.