Popular press portrays media as sort of being a danger or risk for teens and we thought that it's quite probable that they're using it for social reasons that could be beneficial. I think what's unique about the research we do here and with the children's digital media center is that rather than looking at the impact media have on children, we're really interested in what are the developmental processes and needs that children have and how our media are being used in service of those. And for us, we were really interested in social connections and intimacy and how teens might be using this social space, this very popular social space, to address those needs.
There's common concerns about "digital ink is permanent" and I think that adolescents don't appreciate that. In our own study, we didn't see youth engaging in risky behaviors or seeking out strangers or posting personal things. Within our data, what we find is that youth are really using social networking sites to connect to people they know from their offline world and to build connections with them.
I'm definitely closer to people that I wouldn't normally be as close to without them. Maybe they're my friends, but I don't have class with them or some of my friends live on the East coast.
It gives us something to talk about and also it gives you more one on one, especially Skype where you can actually talk to them one on one.
So when started the study we expected to see a lot of overlap between teens online and offline worlds which we did, but when we asked teens to name the ten people they interact most with online on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace and instant messaging or in face-to-face contacts, we thought there would be a really high overlap between those people and we didn't find that.
We also found that they weren't engaging in risky behaviors. so they were connecting with friends, they were sharing updates about themselves, they were reading updates about other people, they weren't seeking out people, they weren't poking or winking or flirting or doing those things that the media seems to be concerned that they are.
And so what we really see are teens have multi-faceted relationships and they use platforms to connect socially to people and different ways. Intimicy and social connection is a very important developmental need for this age group and thats how they're using the social media.