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Teen friendships move online, study finds

Susie O’Brien, November 14, 2021 3:00PM Kids News

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Half of Australian teenagers spend at least as much time with their friends online as they do in person, according to new research from Australian Institute of Family Studies. Picture: iStock media_cameraHalf of Australian teenagers spend at least as much time with their friends online as they do in person, according to new research from Australian Institute of Family Studies. Picture: iStock

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Half of all Australian teens now spend more time, or as much time, online with their friends rather than seeing them in person.

This is despite the fact that one third of boys and 42 per cent of girls say social media makes hard times even more tough.

New research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies has renewed* concerns about the impact of screen time on teenagers’ mental health.

Teenagers who went from using social media weekly to daily had a higher risk of depression and anxiety, the researchers found.

Madrid, Spain - August 15, 2018: Teenager playing Fortnite video game on PC. Fortnite is an online multiplayer video game developed by Epic Games media_cameraGaming is one of the ways teenagers interact with the friends online. Picture: iStock

The findings showed 46 per cent of 16-year-olds and 36 per cent of 14-year-olds spent the same time engaging* with friends via Snapchat, video gaming, Instagram or TikTok as seeing them face-to-face.

The findings also showed 7 per cent of 16-year-olds and 5 per cent of 14-year-olds mainly interacted* with friends electronically.

The highest percentage of children who interacted with friends mostly via social media were 16-year-olds with autism*, the researchers found.

African teen girl talking with friends on distance video group conference call in bedroom. Mixed race teenager having fun chatting during virtual meeting at home communicating online lying in bed. media_cameraThe Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have changed the way many young people interact with their friends. Picture: iStock

The data was collected before the pandemic and lockdowns.

Australian Institute of Family Studies researcher Pilar Rioseco said: “The platforms young people are using to connect have changed substantially and digital devices such as mobile phones have become more readily available to adolescents.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that many young people interact, with many having to rely heavily on digital technologies to keep in touch with friends and family.”

Dr Rioseco also found that a quarter of teens were victims of cyber-bullying, including threats and name calling.

“Providing young people with the skills to interact safely online and deal with cyber-bullying is critical,” she said.

Cropped shot of a group of friends using their phones together outdoors media_cameraThe Australian Institute of Family Studies research has renewed concerns about the impact of screen time on teenagers’ mental health. Picture: iStock

The study, which has followed 10,000 children since 2004, surveyed 14 and 15-year-olds and 16 and 17-year-olds about the time they spent online.

Some children – around 15 per cent of 16-year-olds – reported they found it easier to be themselves when online.

A quarter of those with autism said being online made it easier to be themselves and almost half said being online helped them feel better during difficult times.

Dr Rioseco said online engagement “appears to have benefits for some young people in terms of facilitating* social connection* and providing support during difficult times”.

GLOSSARY

  • renewed: to begin again
  • engaging: becoming involved
  • interacted: talked, be involved
  • autism: a developmental disorder that affects person’s ability to communicate and interact with others
  • facilitating: make something possible or easier
  • social connection: connecting by talking or being with others

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which organisation conducted this research?
  2. What percentage of 16-year-olds spent as much time with friends online as they did in person?
  3. What percentage of 14-year-olds spent as much time with friends online as they did in person?
  4. The data was collected before which global event?
  5. How many children has the study been following since 2004?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Present the data
Choose three pieces of data from this news story and present them on an infographic poster to help a viewer quickly and easily understand the information.

When deciding which three pieces of data to include, think about what people might find most interesting or shocking, and which facts relate to one another.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
What else do you wonder about children’s online activities? Think of a question that hasn’t already been answered in this news story and create your own research question. Survey your classmates and present your findings.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Should screen time be limited?
Did you know that in China, screen time is limited to just 2 hours a week?

Could you handle if your screen time was limited? How much time do you currently spend online?

Write a persuasive letter to your parents letting them know if you agree that screen time should be limited, or whether you disagree and convince them not to change your screen time.

Remember to be organised with your writing and start a new paragraph for each section of your writing. Use emotive language to express your opinions and try to hook the reader in with each paragraph opener.

Remember to re-read to edit and up-level your work before you share it with a peer or family member.

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