Friending, IMing, and Hanging Out Face-to-Face: Overlap in Adolescents' Online and Offline Social Networks

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Abstract

Many new and important developmental issues are encountered during adolescence, which is also a time when Internet use becomes increasingly popular. Studies have shown that adolescents are using these online spaces to address developmental issues, especially needs for intimacy and connection to others. Online communication with its potential for interacting with unknown others, may put teens at increased risk. Two hundred and fifty-one high school students completed an in-person survey, and 126 of these completed an additional online questionnaire about how and why they use the Internet, their activities on social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace) and their reasons for participation, and how they perceive these online spaces to impact their friendships. To examine the extent of overlap between online and offline friends, participants were asked to list the names of their top interaction partners offline and online (Facebook and instant messaging). Results reveal that adolescents mainly use social networking sites to connect with others, in particular with people known from offline contexts. While adolescents report little monitoring by their parents, there was no evidence that teens are putting themselves at risk by interacting with unknown others. Instead, adolescents seem to use the Internet, especially social networking sites, to connect with known others. While the study found moderate overlap between teens' closest online and offline friends, the patterns suggest that adolescents use online contexts to strengthen offline relationships.

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