Friendships are undoubtedly a huge part of any teenager’s life. Teens often rely on their friends to share good times with one another, support and help each other during hard times, and to feel like they fit in somewhere. However, after a new Pew Internet Project report found that a whopping 93% of teens ages 12-17 go online on a daily basis, and 57% have met a new friend online, how many of those online friendships are authentic friendships? Friendships formed online are nowhere as valuable as friendships formed in-person because anyone can be anonymous on the Internet, they lack affection and true understanding, and can prevent people from socializing outside of the Internet.
One of the reasons why friendships formed online aren’t as equally valuable as friendships formed in-person is because anyone can pretend to be someone they’re not. Anyone can remain anonymous on the Internet. It is difficult to get to know the other person without meeting them face-to-face and seeing their body language and expressions. In the article “Making Friends Through the Internet,” the author states that “If you are dealing with someone who is not forthcoming about their identity, you don’t know his or her motive for doing so.” There are many incidents in which what seemed like nothing more than an online friendship turned out to be a much more sinister case of online grooming. According to the NSPCC, grooming is “when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.” This can be far easier online, since online groomers have a multitude of ways they can target teens. Groomers often find their victims through popular sites, social media, or online forums and games. The process can take place anywhere from a short period of time to an extended period of time. The predator might lie about their age, send fake photos/videos they say is of themselves when it really isn’t, or pretend that they share the same interests and problems to appeal to the teen. A horrifying incident occurred between 14-year-old Breck Bednar and 18-year-old Lewis Dayne, in which Breck had fallen victim to online grooming. That would have been the last thought on young Breck’s mind. The two had been communicating for some time through an online gaming group. They became “close friends”, and Lewis was able to gain Breck’s trust and eventually lured him into his flat, where he brutally murdered him. While this may seem like an extreme example, it is difficult to ignore that there are 500,000 predators that go online everyday, using cunning techniques to target even the most intelligent teens. Therefore, teens and children should be very careful about who they consider a “friend” online.
Another reason why friendships formed online aren’t as equally valuable as friendships formed in-person is because they lack true affection and understanding. According to Julie Fitness, professor of psychology at Macquarie University, ‘There are a lot of cues you can’t share [online] like tone of voice, observing you interacting with your parents and other friends. If it’s exclusively online, you are curating the information you are communicating. You have an opportunity to put out your best self or only communicate things you are comfortable with.” There will always be some lack of trust and a sense of emptiness between online friends that can only be fulfilled between real friends offline.
Making friends online can also get in the way of socializing with other people outside of the Internet. For example, according to CNBC.com, Facebook users spend approximately 10.5 billion minutes each day surfing the site. That’s about 20 years per day that people spend living online instead of offline. What a tremendous waste that is. Healthline.com stated that “Being on your smartphone can drain the energy that could’ve been spent engaging in real-life interactions with your friends or family. Social media is never the prescription for staving off boredom, anxiety, or loneliness.” Even if all these online hours are spent interacting with an internet friend, it is much more valuable for a teen to unplug and spend quality time with their families, neighbors, offline friends, and looking for new friends in their community.
While some people might say that they have several online friendships that have flourished into precious and genuine, real-life friendships, those situations are actually uncommon. According to a new Pew Research Center Poll, only 20% of all teens have met an online friend in person. And many of those teens reported their experiences as awkward and sometimes unpleasant.
In conclusion, online friendships should never take the place of real-life friendships, because anyone can pretend to be someone they’re not on the Internet, only real-life friends will know you best, and it can prevent you from meeting new people in real-life. In the article “Social Media, Pretend Friends, and the Lie of False Intimacy,” the author suggests that “Fundamentally, technology and our use of it isn’t-as we’ve all hoped-bringing us closer together. In fact, it may be driving us farther apart, as we know more and more people, but know less and less about each of them.” Only a real-life friend will feel your pain. Only a real-life friend can truly be there for you. It takes years to build a relationship like this, but it is worth it, because it lasts a lifetime. We live in a time where everyone is looking for shortcuts, so people go searching through the Internet for friends instead of putting time and effort to find a real-life friend. In the bustling online world, a single click can make or dump a friendship.
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