A study from the University of Washington suggests that adolescent use of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, helps them reach developmental milestones, like fostering a sense of belonging and sharing their personal problems with others.
The study came after experts began investigating if the near-constant digital activity teens and young adults are exposed to changes their development.
It also questioned if digital connectedness could hinder adolescents’ ability to develop an autonomous sense of self. Katie Davis, an assistant professor with UW’s Information School, who is also an expert on digital media use during adolescent development, calls the new age “Friendship 2.0.” Davis stated:
“What they’re doing is different from generations of teenagers from before the digital era, but it comes from the same place of basic developmental needs. It’s just that they’re using different tools to satisfy these needs.”
Davis is the author of the new study, which will be published in the Journal of Adolescence in November. In it, the assistant professor interviewed 32 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18. The teens live in Bermuda, where they have similar digital media habits as teens in the US.
She developed questions on how they use social media to communicate with their friends. She discovered: 94 percent have cell phones, 53 percent of which are internet-enabled; 91 percent have a Facebook profile; 78 percent use instant messaging programs like MSN, AOL, or Skype; 94 percent use YouTube; and 9 percent are Twitter users.
Some of the teens in the study considered the ability to connect with their friends anytime and anywhere through social media and cell phones was not just convenient, but necessary to avoid feeling isolated of left out of group activities. Davis added:
“Adolescents are interacting with their peers constantly, and the question arises as to whether they can still develop an autonomous sense of self.”
While the answer is not yet known, Davis suspects that constant connectivity can support the development of teens who look elsewhere for affirmation instead of relying on their internal sense of worth and efficacy. The study does not show if those involved can display a fragile sense of self, it does show that adolescents use social media and other technology to promote their sense of belonging and self-disclosure of their personal problems. Both of these are processes that support adolescent identity and development.
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