Are online relationships healthy for teens?



Photo illustration of teen with circuitry on face against backdrop of social media photos

Photo illustration from United Methodist Communications.

As churches seek to reach today's youngest adults and teens, knowing how they relate to others is essential. A study from the Pew Research Center reveals that technology continues to change how teens form, nurture and maintain all levels of relationships.

It's a highly nuanced study, but from a young person's perspective, the positive effects of online relationships outweigh the negative. As far as long-term health, it's hard to tell since we don't have the data, but for now we should educate ourselves on the benefits and pitfalls of online fellowship, and more importantly, learn how to protect teens from online danger.

Here are the highlights from the study along with insights to help guide your youth ministry:

Social media, video games, texting

Teens are not merely communicating with their friends using technology, they are also meeting people for the first time and forming relationships. Pew Research says 57 percent of teens have made new friends online. Where are they meeting? For girls, the primary place is social media (78 percent made new friends online). Boys primarily meet new friends through video games (57 percent).

Once they have met either in the real world or in the technological one, these same two venues (social media and video games) along with text messaging are major paths to grow those friendships. In fact, 72 percent of teens spend time with their friends on social media. Video games also draw 72 percent. However, unlike social media, gaming spans the real and the virtual worlds, with 82 percent saying they play with other people in person and 75 percent saying they do the same with people online.

Not surprisingly, the most common technological channel for nurturing friendships is texting. A full 88 percent of teens say they text. Not only is texting the most widespread technology, it is also the preferred method of communication. If your church is not using texting to reach this generation, we have three great places to start.

To read more of this story from United Methodist Communications, click here.


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