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A quarter of adolescents happiest online – and maybe that’s OK.

By Alec Martin, 17 October 2014

Results from a recent poll published by the BBC outlined that one in three people aged 15-18 have met face-to-face with someone they initially met online, and perhaps more strikingly, a quarter of them said they felt happier online than in real life. Is this a sign that today’s young people are losing the ability to interact face-to-face?

There is a temptation to think that there was once a time before social networking when everyone interacted happily face-to-face, and conclude that the internet is a new evil that is slowly breaking down our communication.

But considering that nearly a third of young men and over a half of young women experience a common mental health disorder (e.g. anxiety, depression) at some point during adolescence,1  in many cases we may be looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps before social networking a quarter of young people went without any good quality interaction at all. We could see social networking as a product that meets the demand of adolescents that are experiencing difficulties in face to face interaction, allowing them a space where they can control the pace and nature of interaction more, experiment with their identity, and reach out to find like-minded people that may be missing in their other social circles.

Some may say these young people would be better off just facing their fears head on (the old fashioned way), rather than hiding behind a computer, but anyone with experience of mental health knows that the ‘just pull yourself together’ approach is rarely a productive one. Social networks may be giving young people the lifeline they need to get through to better face-to-face interactions in future.

Social networking probably is leading us to less face-to-face interaction overall. But to draw an analogy from how cars encroached on walking a century ago, there are pros that people can travel further than they could before, and cons that sometimes people may drive when they really should walk. For good and ill the internet is now part of life, let’s work more on understanding, supporting and educating, and less on arbitrating and moral alarm.

 

Alec Martin is a Researcher at OnePlusOne

 

  1. Patton, G. C., Coffey, C., Romaniuk, H., Mackinnon, A., Carlin, J. B., Degenhardt, L., … & Moran, P. (2014). The prognosis of common mental disorders in adolescents: a 14-year prospective cohort study. The Lancet, 383(9926), 1404-1411.
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