In our times, internet communication and making friends online becomes more and more popular among modern teenagers and youth. Overwhelming majority of young people spend a lot of time talking to their online friends in such popular online communities as Facebook, MySpace and others. The members of these networks get to know each other, share the news, exchange opinions and discuss various important issues. That is why the role of online friends in the social development of today’s adolescents is quite significant.
Certainly, online relationships are in many ways different from conventional friendships, and the absence of face-to-face contact between friends is the key difference. Virtual relationships are frequently linked to failures in establishing mutual trust, fears connected with possible identity manipulations, escaping from responsibility and other negative factors, which can be avoided easier in conventional friendships. Also, in terms of online relationships it is usually harder to overcome cross-cultural differences.
At the same time, having friends in cyber space has a number of positive differences in comparison with conventional friendships. First of all, it is usually easier to find potential friends in cyber space, because the members of popular social networks are usually grouped according to their interests, age, educational backgrounds, etc. Besides, many young people feel freer, more comfortable and open when socializing online. Finally, online friendships can be considered less stressful and more flexible than conventional ones.
Undoubtedly, friendships are very important for proper personal and social development, but in terms of online contacts it is very difficult to learn many basic social skills, such as understanding of other people’s emotions, reactions and other non-verbal signals, revealing oneself to others, tolerance to the opinions of other people, etc. Also, real-life friendships offer more opportunities for the friends to get involved in various activities. That is why such environment is more advantageous for social development of young people.