What comes to mind when you think of teens, technology and social networking? Memes? Sexting? "Tweeting," whatever that is?
That nearly-indecipherable e-language where "4" replaces "for" and "2" replaces "to" and "LOL" is supposed to mean the same thing as "Ha ha"?
Well, according to new research appearing in the Journal of Adolescence, you can also add "identity" and "belonging" to that list.
Katie Davis, a professor at the University of Washington, found that digital media helps teens arrive at developmental milestones – whether it's finding that sense of belonging that all teenagers seek or giving them a network where they can share problems or ask questions.
Davis said that these needs are the same as they've ever been among teens. The only difference is that today's youth are "using different tools to satisfy these needs."
That's why she refers to all this as Friendship 2.0.
When she asked teens that question that parents love – what they were talking about with each other – Davis found that chatting about homework happened about three times as often as conversations about feelings or problems. (So parents usually aren't missing much when their teens inevitably mumble "Nothing" in response.)
For those teens who were talking about something deeper than homework (relationship problems, feeling down), Davis said they were looking for help or advice from their friends. They found it easier to share these thoughts digitally, and felt that typing gave them more control than speaking.
She also discovered that the teens stayed in touch throughout the day, whether it was to check in on what a friend was up to or share a story. For example: About half of the teens would post photos of themselves on Facebook, tag their friends and then talk with each other through the comments on those photos.
While that may sound annoying to pretty much any other age group, Davis said it promoted a sense of belonging to a circle of friends (and, we're guessing, a big heap of Facebook notifications). That constant communication was also something that some teens said they needed in order to not feel isolated.
That was a little worrisome, said Davis, who said the question now is "whether [teens] can still develop an autonomous sense of self." In other words: Do they need their friends to feel whole? She doesn't know yet, but believes being connected to friends 24/7 may be indicative of a mindset that looks to others for validation, rather than developing a strong sense of self-worth.
If that's the case, it wouldn't do teens any harm to go off the grid every once in a while and take a walk. Their Twitter followers and Facebook will still be there when they get back.
Photo by Jeffrey Pott via Flickr Creative Commons.