Teens gain valuable social skills online

2019-03-02 10:06:00

By Roxanne Khamsi, St Louis Instead of steering them away from their computers, parents should recognise that teenagers sharpen important social skills online, say psychologists and anthropologists studying internet behaviour. They stress that many of the traditional teenage hangouts, such as convenience stores and parks, have banned these youngsters or become viewed as unsafe. Danah Boyd, at the University of California, Berkeley, US, and other experts see this as a leading reason why children turn to the web to communicate with their peers. There have been numerous recent reports in the US of teenage girls being sexually assaulted after being contacted through websites by older men posing as teenagers. But Boyd says her analysis of MySpace.com – a leading networking website with 15 million accounts and half the users under 24 – found that most teens sought almost exclusively to socialise with their friends from school, rather than strangers. And one in five online teens in the US – about 4 million people – have their own blog, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Keeping this type of online diary helps to enhance teens’ communication skills, says David Huffaker, a doctoral student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, US. He thinks the blog format enhances their understanding of how to build a narrative. And Huffaker adds that teens also make a considerable effort to reach out to fellow bloggers, frequently linking to and commenting on other people’s postings. In the online communities they form, teens choose empathetic leaders rather than ones that bombard them with advice, says Justine Cassell, also of Northwestern University. Within a closed online forum that she and her colleagues initiated in 1998, called the Junior Summit community, youngsters that used the pronoun “we” in written postings were much more likely than those who used “I” to be elected by their peers as their virtual leaders. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St Louis, Missouri, Cassell and other behavioural scientists emphasised that such studies reveal the values that online communities promote in teens. The experts say parents should continue warning youngsters about potential predators that lurk online. But they say that drastically limiting time online can mean missed opportunities for teens when it comes to worthwhile community participation. More on these topics: