August 31st, 2012
Digital communication may seem impersonal, but that distance may also provide some benefits, especially for troubled teens
By Maia Szalavitz
There is plenty of grumbling about how social media — texting in particular — may be harming children’s social and intellectual development. But a new study suggests that constant IM’ing and texting among teens may also provide benefits, particularly for those who are introverted.
Israeli researchers studied instant messages exchanged by 231 teens, aged 14 to 18. All of the participants were “regular” or “extensive” IM’ers. In the U.S., two thirds of teens use instant messaging services regularly, with a full third messaging at least once every day.
The researchers analyzed 150 conversations in the study, and reported the results in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. In 100 of these chats, the study participant began IM’ing while in a negative emotional state such as sadness, distress or anger. The rest were conversations begun when the participant was feeling good or neutral. After the chat, participants reported about a 20% reduction in their distress— not enough to completely eliminate it, but enough to leave them feeling better than they had before reaching out.