Impact of the Internet on Relationships and Community During Adolescence

3251 Words7 Pages

From birth, humans seek connectedness. Regular social interaction is almost as important as eating or sleeping, and is achieved through social activities and relationships with family and friends. Creating and maintaining these relationships is a process that occurs throughout an individual’s lifetime. Yet, during adolescence these interpersonal relationships start to have a particularly important function. Interactions with family and peers are vital to adolescent identity formation, and the crucial role of these relationships places additional stress on the bonds during this life stage. As Steinberg mentioned in a recent paper, “Adolescence has long been characterized as a time when individuals begin to explore and examine psychological characteristics of the self in order to discover who they really are, and how they fit in the social world in which they live”(Steinberg, 2001). The idea that adolescence is a time of “role experimentation” and a “stage of identity formation” (Erikson, 1956) has existed for decades, dating back to Erikson’s definition of the life stage: Identity vs. Role Confusion. In this stage, as the adolescent begins to be conscious of how their identity is perceived by others, a heightened level of identity awareness develops. Although Erikson’s idea of a life stage with perfect delineated boundaries is now fairly obsolete, the struggle to define one’s identity during adolescence is still very present and relevant. With the advent of the internet, the possibilities for defining the self have expanded dramatically. The youth sector latched onto this technology, using it to help ease and facilitate connections with others. Email and Instant messenging allowed people to communicate quickly in a non-confrontational fashion, and weblog communities encouraged individuals to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions with others online. All of these methods of communication allow the individual to assume multiple identities. According to (Lenhart, 2001) almost one quarter of teens admit to pretending to be someone else over Instant messenger or email. Thus, it is undeniable that this online medium is forum where the expression of role confusion and diffusion can occur freely. But, what impact does this have on the formation of a single identity that is congruent with the ego? An important part of the adolescent identity formation process is the recognition that others notice the outward expression of the self, and that this outward expression must agree with others in order to fit into a social group.

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