While parents often have concerns about allowing their teens to use social media sites like Facebook and MySpace, a new study by University of Virginia psychologists indicates that well-adjusted youth with positive friendships use these sites to improve the positive relationships they already have.
However, they cautioned teens who have behavioral problems and difficulty making friends, or who are depressed, may be more likely to use social media in negative and sometimes aggressive ways.
"We were interested to find that the best-adjusted young people were far more likely to use social media as an extension of their positive friendships, while less socially adept youth either did not have Facebook or MySpace pages, or, if they did, were more likely to use these sites in less-than-positive ways," said U.Va. psychology professor Amori Yee Mikami, the study's lead author.
The researchers assessed the friendship quality and popularity of 172 13-to 14-year olds, and then eight years later, "friended" the study participants on their Facebook and MySpace pages to examine their interactions and friendship quality.
"It was like being a fly on the wall at a slumber party," Mikami said.
She found that those who were better adjusted in their early teens were more likely to use social media in their early 20s, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or parental income, and that overall, the patterns of friendship quality and behavioral adjustment as early teens continued into early adulthood.
"We're finding that the interactions young adults are having on their Facebook and MySpace pages are more similar to than different from the interactions they have in their face-to-face relationships," Mikami said.
"So parents of well-adjusted teens may have little to worry about regarding the way their children behave when using social media. It's likely to be similar positive behavior."
Overall, 86 percent of the youths in Mikami's study used social media Web sites, which parallels the national average, she said.
"Use of Facebook and MySpace is really pervasive among this age group, so it's understandable that young people would want to be connected with their peers in this way; it's an extension of the relationships they already share," Mikami said.
"So parents should try to stay involved with their children and make an attempt to understand their online world in the same way they would want to understand any other aspect of their lives."