Social media has taken over the way we interact with people. Read on to learn the implications of your child forming digital friendships.
By Meera Mathews Marrate
Maya, a mother of two teenage daughters, is fine if her children use social media to connect with friends, as long as it is within limits. She says, “As a modern-day parent, you need to understand that children are fundamentally wired for socialisation. Social media gives them that perfect platform.”
Maya’s good friend Navin, father to a teenager, firmly believes that friendships should be formed on the basis of quality time spent together. According to Navin, being physically present for important life experiences is what really matters.
Navin and Maya may be next-door neighbours and good friends, but they’re worlds apart when it comes to their thoughts on friendship. Well, this is the new-age reality. Whether you support ‘Team Virtual’ or ‘Team Real’, it is undeniable that the nature of friendship is constantly evolving. But has the essence of friendship changed due to this evolution?
When the young and the old talk about what they expect from a friend, and invariably, all conversations lead to the same three expectations:
Over the years, most experts have agreed that true friendship can be developed only through many face-to-face interactions. Looking back, before the advent of social media, there was a certain charm in the way friends used to communicate and bond, which further strengthened relationships.
A decade or two ago, meeting new friends, keeping in touch and maintaining friendships was often very difficult, due to geographical limitations or time constraints. Today, social media plays a key role in filling this gap. It helps people stay connected even when separated by distance.
Social media has opened a world of global interaction, with the power to change our outlook and nature of friendship. It’s a tempting platform that lets you meet and maintain an extensive network of ‘friends’.
Teenagers today are a part of a culture of ‘Connected cocooning’ — a phrase coined by music channel MTV. It describes how the ‘MTV generation’ is constantly wired to a network of digital devices, or more precisely, social media platforms.
Based on two surveys conducted by Pew Research in 2015 in the US, increasingly, teens go online to make friends. A majority (57 per cent) have met at least one new friend online while 29 per cent said they have met at least five friends that way. However, most of these friendships remain online; only 20 per cent of teens have met an online friend in person.
The report further adds that most digital friendships are made through social media and online game play. Teens use texting in their day-to-day interactions. For boys, chatting and hanging out together while playing video games is crucial to developing and maintaining friendships. Social media introduces teens to new friends and keeps them connected to existing friends. It connects them to their friends’ lives and feelings, and offers them support during challenging times.
Multiple studies done over the years show that individuals take part in virtual interactions because it is less stressful emotionally. It is easier to say things that would be difficult to say face-to-face. For example, when two friends are in a fight, it is easier to cut off their relationship through a text, than do so in person.
According to Indhu Rebecca, psychology educator who works with teens, “Social media tends to dilute relationships and exacerbate issues unnecessarily. For teenagers, this is especially true considering they are the ones who spend the most time on social media. Making friends has never been easier. Click on a blue button and your friend's, friend's friend becomes your "FB BFF!!", Silly, isn't it? But for a teenager, the number of likes for an FB post or the number of 'Friends' following them on Instagram is a matter of pride and status. They take it as an evidence of their popularity which reflects on how ‘in and happening’ they are.”
As 17-year-old Vidhya Ram says, “I chat with my online friends for hours. But when we pass each other in the hallway at school, we don't even exchange a glance.”
Parents and teachers should be tuned in to their child’s virtual life and be open to conversations about the same. It is important to impress upon the child the need to steer clear of the dangers posed by social media. It is equally important not to sound preachy (teenagers hate that!).
A 2013 study conducted by Dr Sam Roberts, senior lecturer at the University of Chester in UK, found that people interacting face-to-face were 50 per cent more likely to laugh. They considered themselves as significantly happier. In the words of Dr Roberts, “Quality, not quantity of communication. is most important for keeping friends for life....”
Rita, mother of 15-year-old Ashwin vividly remembers the ‘personal’ experiences with her friend during her childhood. “My mother had to drag me back every evening from the playground. I refused to leave my friends. It’s ironic that there are times I threaten to physically remove the iPad from my son’s hand when he spends too much time on the Net. I guess he refuses to leave his ‘friends’ as well.”
Anu, mother of 15-year-old Adwaita, says, “Back in my teenage years, my parents used to talk to me about how I should be careful of befriending strangers and be aware of my surroundings. Although times have changed, whether it’s for online or offline friendship, two words — ‘Safety First’ — still hold true.”
13-year-old Advait loves the way social media keeps him in the loop and connects him to people with similar interests. He says, “I love basketball and joined an online group of young basketball lovers. I made some great friends there. We discuss matches, favourite players, etc. I feel that I am part of something bigger than myself. I feel a sense of belonging when connected to a community of friends and peers.”
11-year-old Vikas feels social media has helped him to open up. He says, “Chatting with friends online helps me feel comfortable as I feel less awkward and anxious.”
14-year-old Pia says, “Looking at photos and updates of friends online helps me understand them better and allows me to peek into their lives. It opens up lines of communication and understanding. When I feel stressed, I vent online to my friends and it helps me feel less frustrated.”
15-year-old Rehaan says, “I love the fact that I share funny and sad moments with my friends, be it winning a match or doing badly in an exam. I’ve made some good friends this way. I was never into reading but my best friend is an avid reader. Recently, I accompanied him to a library and randomly picked up a book to kill time. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. Now, we go together to rent books.”
13-year-old Arya says, “If I want to talk to my friend, all I need to do is call him. I don’t have to wait for him to come online. Knowing that my friends will be with me if I face any trouble gives me strength and makes me happy. I met my best friend in second grade. I love the fact the we know everything about each other.
Facebook allows users to connect with friends, family and other people they know, share photos and videos, send messages and get updates.
WhatsApp allows users to send text messages, audio messages, videos and photos for free.
Twitter is a microblogging site that lets users post brief messages called 'Tweets'. You can also ‘Follow’ other users' activities.
Snapchat is an image messaging app to share pictures and videos which can be viewed for a short amount of time.
Instagram allows users to capture, edit and share photos, videos, and messages with friends and family.
With so many new ways to talk to people, the world can seem a bit confusing, especially if you aren't up to date with technology. Now, with all this information you are in a better place to guide your teen when it comes to forming friends digitally and non-digitally.
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Meera Mathews Marrate