Science
2:02 pm
Mon October 22, 2012

Study: Kids get developmental boost from phones, social media

Instead of increasing kids’ isolation, a new study from the University of Washington suggests life on the digital frontier is helping kids reach developmental milestones.

Phones and social media help kids share personal problems and build a sense of belonging, the UW noted in a press release.

“What they’re doing is different from generations of teenagers from before the digital era, but it comes from the same place of basic developmental needs. It’s just that they’re using different tools to satisfy these needs,” said UW researcher Katie Davis in the release.

However, Davis cautions that the study also raised questions about whether digital connectedness might hinder the development of an autonomous sense of self.

Davis interviewed 32 adolescents, aged 13 to 18 and about an even mix of boys and girls, living on the island of Bermuda where teens have similar digital media habits as teenagers in the United States, the UW explained

Three key points from the release:

Davis found that friends stay connected through frequent check-ins, sharing something funny that happened or asking what they’re up to or how they’re doing. These off-the-cuff conversations can last throughout the day, with breaks for going to class or having dinner.

Most – 68 percent – of check-ins occur on Facebook, and include groups of friends commenting on photos or YouTube videos. Nearly half of the participants in the survey talked about posting photos of themselves with their friends and then tagging their friends, allowing them to discuss a shared experience and promote a sense of belonging to a circle of friends.

Intimate exchanges, discussed by 69 percent of participants – usually girls – included how they were feeling, whether they were having a bad day or other problems that they hoped to get their friends’ help with. Youths, especially those describing themselves as shy or quiet, said that it was easier to share these personal thoughts digitally than in person. Some felt typing rather than speaking their feelings gave them more control.

The study will be published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescence.