Thursday, October 16, 2014

Increasing number of teen online friendships leads to potential Internet addiction

Teens around the world report the Internet to be the #1 way they communicate with friends, both new and old.

Networking has always been a key aspect in human socialization; however, the increasing popularity of the Internet has potentially grown to be the quickest and most convenient way for teens to network with their peers. Additionally, a recent study revealed that young adults believe their friends are a more important source of support than family, so they utilize the Internet in order to constantly feel connected and build strong relationships. These relationships can be strengthened by learning strong communication skills and comfortably sharing experiences. Internationally, though the specific applications used differ, friendships are most commonly created and nurtured via the web. 

Data reveals that adolescents consider online relationships more genuine, and copious amounts of offline friendships originated online.
According to this study, all age groups (12-15, 16-19 and 20-24) reported having around three times more friends in 'real life' than they did online. In this case, no definition of 'friend' was provided, so it was completely based on the participant's judgement. When asked how many close friends they had, only two times as many were from 'real life' as they were from the Internet, as depicted in the graph to the left. This implies that though a larger quantity of relationships are formed in person, the quality of these connections is much stronger online. Also, roughly one quarter of the offline relationships reported began online and then transitioned into face-to-face friendships. Surprisingly, no statistically significant conclusions can be made regarding how much of a factor age and gender are in these findings.

Young adults who prioritize fostering online relationships over offline ones often show numerous symptoms of Internet addiction.
Though 'Internet addiction' has no formal definition, nor has it even been deemed a legitimate disorder, various researchers have defined it in a wide variety of ways. For the sake of this study, the term has been operationalized to include six main criteria, which are depicted in the graphic to the right. Addiction typically stems from excessive gaming in virtual worlds such as Second Life, Our World, and more. Addicted teens spend around 25 hours playing a week, which is about as much time as a high school student spends in school. About 26% of 12-26 year olds consider themselves to be "Internet oriented," meaning if given the preference, they would rather communicate behind a computer screen for the rest of their life. With the rapidly growing digital world, this number is only expected to grow in the next few years.

Those with low self-esteem typically feel more comfortable in online conversation as opposed to talking face-to-face, making up a large percentage of Internet-addicted youth.
Findings in this study showed a positive correlation between preference of communicating online and number of hours on the web, but self-esteem was negatively associated with both of these. In simpler terms, those who spend more time on the Internet are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, making them more prone to Internet addiction. In 1998, a study done by Robert Kraut stating that "Internet usage leads youngsters to social isolation;" however the results of this study contradicted that, because the least amount of friends were recorded by those with no Internet connections. With an overwhelming number of young adults using the web to replace face-to-face interaction, who knows what the future will hold!

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