Positive Zone

Positive Effect of Internet On Youth

Posted on: 12/02/2011

Despite alarmist reports on cyberbullying, sexual misdeeds and real-life social isolation, the Internet is really an important training ground for adolescents to build their identities and learn crucial social skills that can strengthen their real-life relationships, according to a new review of the research to date.

After several years of intensive academic research on adolescents and electronic media, it’s now possible to get a “metaview” of how the Internet shapes the self-identity, relationships and sexuality of young people, says Patti Valkenburg, a professor at the University of Amsterdam’s Center for Research on Children, Adolescents and the Media.

The results are largely encouraging — with a few caveats.

“With every new media, there’s always panic,” she said. “For most adolescents, it’s still positive, but not when it’s used too much. They can get easy access to everything, but there are dangers on the Internet, just like in our daily lives.”

Two key social skills that develop in adolescence are self-presentation, selectively presenting aspects of yourself to others and selfdisclosure, or revealing elements of your true self, Valkenburg and co-author Jochen Peter wrote. Traditionally, teeens practised these skills in face-to-face relationships, but that’s increasingly moving online.

One study found that about a third of the teenagers, particularly boys, preferred online compared to face-to-face conversations for intimate topics such as love, sex and things they’re ashamed of, Valkenburg said. Technology could encourage them to share more and, in turn, foster stronger real-life friendships, she said.

There’s also “consistent evidence” that compulsive Internet use — the inability to curb the amount of time spent online, or tech-mediated activities replacing real-life ones — is harmful to self-esteem, they wrote.

The research will be published in the February issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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