Teen online friendships as valid as actual ones

New York: Are you worried about your teenage child engaging in online activities with their friends? Stop worrying, as online friendships in teenagers are just as intimate and have similar characteristics as offline relationships.

Researchers have found that digital behaviours serve the same purpose and encompass the same core qualities as face-to-face relationships.

“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,” said Stephanie Reich, associate professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

Reich, along with the lead author Joanna Yau, identified six core characteristics of offline friendships — self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict and conflict resolution — and their digital parallels.

For each quality, they noted ways in which online interfaces corresponded with or differed from in-person communication.

They found digital exchanges offer more benefits in some areas and carry increased risks in others.

On the plus side, online contact enhances companionship between friends via conversations that can continue throughout the day and night without disrupting others and it also allows more time to control emotions and calm down before crafting and sending a response to something upsetting.

Conversely, friendships can be damaged by gossip and rumours, which spread much faster and farther through cyberspace.

“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.

“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.” Reich added.