One of the consequences of the introduction of the Internet to the average home has been a change in social dynamic. As one major aspect of teen life is social environment, changes in how teens connect impact the ways in which teens develop social skills. Luckily, the Internet offers many social-skill enhancement opportunities for teens of all different personalities 2.
Adjusting the Social Interaction Level
Comparing two teens is often like comparing apples and oranges. Not all teens require the same amount of social stimuli. On the ends of the spectrum are intensely shy and intensely outgoing, and your teen can lie anywhere in between. One advantage the Internet brings that the standard school environment cannot is the ability for teens to adjust their amount of social interaction 2. Teens who are extremely outgoing can spend their free time in social environments both offline and online, making new connections and catching up with friends. Less social teens can use the Internet to tailor their amount of social interaction to a degree that is comfortable to them 2. For example, a teen who finds large amounts of face-to-face interaction to be intimidating can use the Internet to engage in conversations while reducing the potential for social anxiety. In a way, this trains less social teens to be more social 2. In the past, these types of teens did not have the advantage of this social training provided by the Internet 2.
Social Network Growth
The Internet offers teens the ability to make friends with peers with whom they would not otherwise connect. With pop culture deteriorating into many distinct subcultures, teens’ interests are more variable than they have ever been. Whereas in the past, children at school might have discussed the current top 40 when discussing music, today’s kids define their musical tastes as specific genres, such as post-industrial, dubstep or jpop. Today, it’s harder for teens to find peers who share the same interests in their schools. But online, not so. The Internet’s social networks help teens find communities of peers who share similar interests, allowing a teen to grow his social network in a way that is specific to him 2. Today’s teens are increasingly willing to make friends with different groups of people due to the ability to actually meet them, and this can be useful when they reach adulthood, a time in which accepting people of different backgrounds and demographics is crucial to career and academic growth.
Intimate Relationship Training
Teens’ bodies are full of hormones that drive teens to have sexual thoughts and urges. But without the experience of intimate relationships, acting on these urges can lead to risky behaviors. Naturally curious teens can find a wealth of information on the Internet. Being so, they can use the Internet to learn about their sexuality without trying to figure it out on their own. The Internet also provides a means for teens to meet members of the opposite sex in a non-physical environment, which can be healthy, according to psychologist Monica Whitty, author of “Cyberspace Romance: The Psychology of Online Relationships.” Whitty points out that the Internet can be a useful training ground for teens to practice interaction while gaining social support from the opposite sex 12.
For many teens, the hardest part of life is figuring out identity. The teen years, as a stage of psychological growth, is one of a search for self identity. Finding yourself in a small, closed community can be difficult due to a lack of stimuli and new ideas. But the Internet can help teens foster self identity through exposure to new people, communities, hobbies and concepts. As teens go through more experiences, they learn more about themselves. And as the Internet can offer teens a wealth of experience, it can play the role of hastening the development of self identity.
The Parental Role in Technology Safety
The primary step in protecting your children from the social dangers present online is through supervision. In many cases, especially when a problem is already present, parents would benefit from putting limitations on their child’s technology use. But overall, knowledge about how your child is using technology goes a long way in preventing potential problems. Kimberly S. Young, scholar of Internet use and author of “Caught in the Net,” recommends parents set up more family activities and engage in more personal time with their children. This not only helps children naturally reduce the time they spend with technology but also allows for open communication between parent and child, which can help parents know about the social happenings in their children’s lives. Through open discourse, parents can communicate their concerns about the overuse and misuse of technology, while children can inform their parents about their online habits.
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