You can’t really blame a teen for becoming addicted to social media. After all, it has injected their social lives with an unprecedented level of convenience, enabling them to develop large social networks. There are, however, some very serious side-effects to this. Researchers have learned that online social networking is reshaping teens’ concept of friendship and intimacy, which are consequently taking a toll on their social development.
Changing Norms of Friendship
There’s undoubtedly a strong synergy between social media and relationships, courtesy of the ease with which users can connect to each other. According to a Pew Internet and American Life project report, Teens, Social Media and Privacy, a typical teen has around 300 Facebook friends and 79 Twitter follows. This is because young people have become extremely conscious of the size of their social network. In order to feel socially supported, they’ve become more reliant on a large network of online friends than a network of quality friends with whom they feel emotionally connected. Many of their online contacts whom they consider “friends” are people they may never even meet in real life.
Intimacy on the Decline
As teens’ concept of friendship is changing, so is their concept of intimacy. Where self-disclosure was once a powerful tool to form intimate relationships, it has now become a routine part of daily online interactions. Teens are increasingly sharing their personal thoughts and feelings with their large network of online friends. The underlying motives are not to form a deep, emotional connection with their audience, but to derive personal support and affirmation through the likes and comments on their postings. The level of intimacy is further on the decline due to lack of face-to-face interaction, according to a study by the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) graduate Lauren Sherman who studied the different form of communications between friends. Her study revealed that teens’ preferred mode of communication, social media, is depriving them of the opportunity to connect with their friends as well as they can.
A Disturbing Trend
As teens pursue a large social network, they are clearly giving preference to efficiency of connection over intimacy. Such an attitude can keep them from learning to develop and maintain long-term relationships and commit to them emotionally. That’s not the only downside to technology’s deep integration with their social life. As majority of teens share their personal information and photos with their online friends, some of whom they may not even know too well, they are exposing themselves to serious privacy risks.
Teens are clearly getting the wrong idea about friendships and intimacy. As parents, it’s your responsibility to ensure that technology doesn’t impede their social and emotional development. Getting them to unplug and interact with friends face-to-fact may be a good start.