Several years ago, the friends we made were either people we grew up with or went to school with. Befriending people online wasn’t spoken about or done, because, well, it was quite frankly odd. However, more and more people are creating new friendships on all sorts of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and of course, Facebook.
Online friendships are becoming more normalized in teens today, even though parents still have slight concerns, like fearing that their child may not be able to socialize or communicate well in person. However, a recent study from the University of California, Irvine, shows that teenagers are able to gain the same skills online as they would do when meeting someone face to face.
“Increased peer interaction in cyberspace has led to growing concern that today’s adolescent friendships are now less intimate and an inadequate substitute for those back in the day that took place in person,” said study co-author and UCI associate professor Stephanie Reich in a statement.
“Many contacts between adolescents are mediated through technology and can provide additional opportunities for friends to spend time together, share thoughts, and display affection than in offline spaces alone,” she added.
Publishing their findings in Adolescent Research Review, Reich and her colleague, Joanna Yau, discuss six characteristics of offline friendships. These were self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict, and conflict resolution. For each characteristic, the researchers listed and described ways in which online interactions were similar or different to face to face ones. They worked out that just like offline friendships, online ones can have their pros and cons.
The researchers found that friendships created on the internet actually enhance companionship through ongoing conversations that last throughout the day. Chatting online also allows both communicators to really think about and revise their emotions, before swapping messages back and forth.
However, one disadvantage of online communication was that when lies or rumors are spread online, they move at double the speed they would if they were being spread offline.
"Digital communication may increase the ramifications of conduct due to the permanence of information and the speed by which it travels, but at the core, friendships seem to have the same key characteristics," explained Reich.
“The majority of adolescents interact electronically most often with individuals they consider friends offline. So rather than reducing intimacy in these relationships, technology-mediated communication may provide additional benefits to teens as connections occur both face-to-face and online."