Drugs & Health Blog

Teen Friendships Rely—but Don’t Depend—on Technology

The NIDA Blog Team

Teens’ use of digital technology like social media, video games, and mobile phones has come in for some criticism, supposedly because (the critics say) teens are using those devices when they could be developing social skills by actually seeing other people. But as we’ve mentioned here before, in one area at least—how lonely teens say they feel—today’s teens are better off than the previous generation, and social media appears to be one reason for that change.

Now the most detailed report yet has come out about how teens use technology in their friendships. It suggests that, yep, these devices are changing how teenagers interact with their friends—but the tools are just that, tools. They aren’t removing personal interaction from teens’ social lives; they’re expanding the ways it can happen.

Nice to meet you

The Pew Research Center did a national survey of teens (ages 13 to 17) on how they’re using social media, video games, and cell phones in making and interacting with friends.

These days, “making friends isn’t just confined to the school yard, playing field or neighborhood – many are making new friends online,” the report says. How many? About 57% of teens have made a new friend online, usually on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, or while playing networked video games.

Beyond the screen: BFFs

However, 85% of teens “said they spend time with friends by calling them on the phone, and 19% do so every day.” Plus, interacting in digital space isn’t replacing teenager’s face-to-face contact with their best friends. Fifty-nine percent of teens said they keep in touch with their BFF at least once a day (over 40% said “many times a day”)—at school (for 83% of those surveyed), at someone’s house (58%), or online (55%).

Almost half of teens said their first choice for digitally communicating with their bestie is texting (including on messaging apps), 20% said social media, 13% said phone calls, and 6% said video games. It looks like teens are using technology not to substitute for close friendships, but as one of several ways to keep them active.

Not “either/or”

The report found a lot of other interesting things on the subject (guess which digital tool boys use most in maintaining friendships? How about girls?). Overall, though, the takeaway is that the critics can chill out: social interacting among teens hasn’t simply “gone digital.” Teens now have both digital and “analog” options for keeping in touch, and they’re using both.

Note: The challenge for teens is how to embrace the new technology safely. There are predators of all kinds on the internet—people pretending they are someone they are not; people with money scams. Teens should never meet up with anyone they meet on the internet unless it is in a public place with other friends. Teens should also not give any personal information to people they meet online—no phone number or address. And if you feel you have been victimized or lied to by someone online, tell your parents or school authorities. They can help you decide if the police should be called. So by all means, enjoy the new technology, but do it with caution.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

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