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Online Communication

“We talk about what we’re doing this weekend, comfort friends if something bad has happened and sometimes tell jokes.” -  Reason for using Instant Messaging, Anonymous

Instant Messaging otherwise known as IM is one of the largest forms of online communication for teenagers.  Instant Messaging allows users to carry on one or more real conversations simultaneously.  This program also provides a ‘Buddy List’ which is a way to indicate whether a person is online and able to chat.  Teenager’s use of Instant Messaging is increasingly becoming popular, and has recently caught the media attention.  Why do teens use Instant Messaging as their main source of conversation?  Some say it’s an easier way to avoid awkward moments, instead of having the face-to-face confrontation. Teens use IM for things they can’t say in person such as asking someone out on a date, breaking up with someone or just in general feeling more comfortable getting to know someone online first before hanging out with them in person.

According to Lloyd, Meszaros, & Gotow (2006), IM usage is so popular among teens, that 75% of them use it and 65% report that they use IM to communicate with their friends. Teenagers find the need to have abundant friendships and Instant Messaging helps by increasing their feeling of belonging and along the way helps to understand who they are as a person, as well as others.  Grinter & Eldgridge (2001) stated that adolescence is a development period that is defined by the need for face-to-face communication with friends. However, it has been shown that teens don’t have enough time to interact with their friends at school and may not be independent enough to meet with others after school, which is a reason as to why Instant Messaging is becoming popular.

Lee & Sun (2009) conducted a study on using Instant Messaging to enhance the interpersonal relationships of adolescents. Study showed that teenagers do establish friendships during the period of interpersonal relationships development via IM. Instant Messaging then becomes an instrument for identification with their friends after eventually forming a close relationship. Once the relationship becomes very secure, IM has no affect on friendship building and recognition.

Even though Instant Messaging is a great way for adolescents to communicate with others, it also has some risks:

  1. Instant Messaging programs are never  100% secure
  2. It is an easy way for strangers to contact you
  3. Provides an easy way for people to find out information
  4. You can receive messages that may contain links to things such as adult sites

Georgie Binks from Microsoft Home Magazine declared four ways to help your children understand how to protect themselves while Instant Messaging.:

  1. Never respond to a bully
  2. Save offensive or bullying messages and show them to an adult
  3. Avoid writing anything they wouldn’t mind the world seeing
  4. Understand that some forms of online bullying are considered crimes, such as making racist remarks and publishing remarks that could ruin a person’s reputation

Even though there are risks when it comes to using Instant Messaging it is shown that the positives out weight the negatives. Instant Messaging is a way for children to communicate with others their age which eventually can build an everlasting friendship that leads to face-to-face communication.

For more information: go here.

Lee, Y-C, Sun, Y.C. (2009). Using instant messaging to enhance the interpersonal relationships of Taiwanese adolescents: regression analysis. Adolescence, 44 (173), 199-208.