Adolescents Online: Social Networking and Communication
Currently most American adolescents have access to the Internet at home, many via personal computers located in their bedrooms. Teenagers also use all kinds of mobile devices, such as cell phones and iPads, to surf the Internet (Feldman, 2011). Accessing social media sites such as MySpace and Facebook is one of the most common activities of American youth (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). The emergence of varied kinds of Web-based social media sources and methods of gaining access to these sources has "meant that exposure to sexuality, to sexual information, and to sexual images has
substantially affected sexual attitudes and behaviors for this contemporary generation of adolescents (Fortenberry et al., 2010, p. 306).
Teenagers engage in a broad range of online behaviors, including blogging (creating and maintaining personal Internet sites that allow their authors and others to post content, thus creating a personal network), interacting and social networking with peers in chat rooms, seeking health information, accessing pornography, researching topics related to school assignments, posting personal profiles on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and countless other online activities (Bleakley et al., 2011; Mitchell & Ybarra,
2009; O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011; Versteeg et al., 2009 ).
A number of social scientists have suggested that while adolescents often access valuable information and support on various websites, "electronic communication may also be reinforcing peer communication at the expense of communication with parents" (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008, p. 119). However, the "Internet can also strengthen family ties because it provides a continuously connected presence" (Brown,
2011, p. 32). Family members can communicate with each other via cyberspace, and young people away at college can maintain more contact with their parents by Skyping and web-texting. A recent survey found that adolescents today feel closer to their parents than did their older siblings (Brown, 2011).
Such online activities, in addition to having a potentially adverse impact on family relations, often result in a decline in face-to-face communication with peers. Therefore, a possible consequence of the rise of online networking and communicating may be a reduction in real-world interpersonal competence. In addition, troubled teens who frequently access online sites such as Facebook and MySpace may experience depression, especially if they are already dealing with low self-esteem (O’Keeffe &
Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate online content are additional dangers that confront adolescents online (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson,
2011). Finally, contacts made in cyberspace can potentially endanger adolescents, as described in Chapter 17.
On a positive note, social networking and interaction with strangers online may alleviate some of the negative effects teenagers experience as a result of social rejection in the real world (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008).