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The Demise of Friendship in the Age of Social Networking

While some might insist that the proliferation of social networking sites, email and text messaging have allowed us all to have closer connections with more people than ever before, is it possible that just the opposite is true?  Could all this technological interaction actually be turning our kids into a generation of anti-social creatures who someday might not even know how to have a real face-to-face relationship with another human being?

Psychologists and other experts say that might very well be the case.  What’s happening might more accurately be described as anti-social networking and is perhaps changing the nature of childhood friendships forever.

A recent study from Pew Research Center revealed that half of all teens, defined as kids aged 12 to 17, send at least 50 text messages each and every day.  One third admit to sending more than 100 a day.  Add to that the Kaiser Family Foundation’s findings that kids aged 8 to 18 spend an average of 7½  hours a day using some type of electronic device and you might begin to suspect that kids are spending very little time communicating with each other face-to-face.   And you’d be right.  That same Pew study found that only 33 percent of teens have in-person conversations with their friends on a daily basis.

Jeffrey G. Parker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, says that we are only just beginning to understand how this lack of intimate, real-time interaction might impact our kids in the future.  But he suspects that the impact is not a positive one.

“These good, close relationships — we can’t allow them to wilt away. They are essential to allowing kids to develop poise and allowing kids to play with their emotions, express emotions, all the functions of support that go with adult relationships.”

In addition to lacking the intimacy that comes with seeing another person’s face when communicating, technology has allowed kids to value quantity over quality. Quick updates among hundreds of Facebook friends is no substitute for the hours-long phone conversations of yesterday. And with kids hopping online at ever-earlier ages, some fear important relationship skills could be lost forever.

For evidence that technological advances in communication are already impacting today’s youth, one need look no further than the college campus.  In an article on Boston.com, college student Charlotte Steinway relates the odd experience of seeing fellow students use technology not to make and nurture friendships, but to avoid them.

Engrossed in their iPods, cell phones and computers, she is routinely ignored on campus, even by her so-called Facebook friends.  She suspects that not only are her classmates more comfortable socializing online, but that they are also hiding behind their electronic devices, pretending to be texting (fauxting!) or listening to music to avoid actually having to speak to someone face to face.  Could it be that after so much time spent texting and Facebook friending, they’ve forgotten how to be friends in the real world?

Image: me and the sysop/Flickr

More from this author:

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