Digital media make teens feel they belong

Teenagers are provided with a sense of belonging by using their mobile phones and visiting social networking websites. This is the suggestion of new research to be published in the Journal of Adolescence, which found digital media helps youngsters to reach developmental milestones and enables them to share personal problems.

However, investigators from the University of Washington also pointed out technology use of this type could slow down the development of an autonomous sense of self.

Katie Davis, Assistant Professor in the Information School at the learning institute, explained youngsters today may be doing different things than generations before, but they are simply trying to satisfy their needs and are using updated tools to do so.

Ms Davies said that while relying on other people suggests a person's sense of self might be fragile, the findings do not prove this to definitely be the case.

She added: "What we can say is that adolescents are using digital media to promote their sense of belonging and self-disclosure of personal problems, two important peer processes that support identity development."

Dr Cynthia McVey, a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"Digital media facilitates constant communication. Adolescents have been found to use these to improve sense of belonging and share problems - important in development of sense of self, confidence, autonomy and identity.

"While this is beneficial, researchers have raised the question whether this ability to constantly communicate with peers for approval, reassurance, solution to problems, may adversely affect development of self, autonomy, and confidence - leading to external rather than internal measurement of self-worth.

"Certainly, instead of a small group of friends whom adolescents see in person, within time and geographical limits, leaving space for reflection and development of self-reliance, they can communicate anything, anytime, from any place with a few close friends and many acquaintances; they can boast to those they know less well and share their fears and foibles with those close but allegiances may change and they may be open to criticism and bullying as well as support.

"They may learn to rely on others’ views and opinions instead of their own. This would, indeed, be worrying as well-being is related to a sound sense of self-worth, self-efficacy and confidence. Research on this topic is required."