Social scientists have had a decade in which to study the use of the Internet by teenagers and adolescents. In a review article published in February, researchers Valkenburg & Peter (2009) found that the Internet — contrary to initial expectations — seems largely to be of benefit to most adolescents.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) stimulates self-disclosure. People who use a computer to communicate with someone else engage in more communications with that person, and the communications results in more intimate self-disclosure.
The researchers found that studies that have look at online self-disclosure found that the more teens disclose online, the more likely they are to report higher-quality friendships and more friendship-forming behaviors. Self-disclosure can occur not only directly in instant messaging, in email or on Twitter, but also indirectly through a person’s Facebook and Myspace pages.
We also know from previous research that in general, high-quality relationships can help promote happiness in our lives. Therefore, any tool or service that can help us improve and maintain relationships which we view as “high-quality,” indirectly helps promote our own happiness. Since there’s evidence to support that online communications stimulate the quality of adolescents’ friendships, it could be argued that the Internet also helps promote a person’s positive well-being or happiness.
Who’s benefiting the most from online communication? Since online self-disclosure seems to occur with greater frequency and reliability with our existing friends, according to the research, people who spend a lot of their time online communicating with strangers aren’t going to get as much benefit from it. So IMing, emailing and texting your friends is more beneficial. But people who have large groups of “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter, as well as those who engage in anonymous chat with strangers in chatrooms, do not benefit nearly as much.
Teenage boys also seem to benefit more than girls, which is not surprising given that previous research has shown that adolescent boys generally have more difficulty self-disclosing to friends than girls do. Still, one in three teens say that they find it easier to self-disclose online than face-to-face.
The researchers also concluded that socially well-adjusted teens use the Internet (they see it as just another tool in their social toolkit, another way to stay in touch with their friends) in socially-beneficial ways more than the socially awkward or isolated (or those teens who suffer from social anxiety). Socially anxious teenagers do seem to prefer online self-disclosure as opposed to face-to-face disclosures.
Read the full news article: Web Now Seen As Beneficial For Teens
Valkenburg, P.M. & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of the Internet for adolescents: A decade of research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), 1-5.