BFFE (Be Friends Forever): the way in which young adolescents are using social networking sites to maintain friendships and explore identity.
Clarke, Barbie (2009) BFFE (Be Friends Forever): the way in which young adolescents are using social networking sites to maintain friendships and explore identity. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece.
Children have embraced social networking sites and their age is becoming younger (Ofcom 2008; Livingstone, 2004). Friendship is especially important to early adolescents, as they turn from their family to the outside world (Erikson, 1968, Hartup, 2000, Dunn 2004). An ethnographic approach was used to carry out research with children in early adolescence to find out the nature of their communication through social networking sites. Findings are considered from a psychosocial perspective, and indicate that friendships may be maintained beyond their natural course, but that ‘keeping in touch’ with old friends helps to establish identity, one of the major tasks of becoming an adolescent. The use of social networking sites appear to be an important source of support and comfort to the young adolescent who is experiencing transition cognitively, physically, and through change of school. Early adolescents are more likely to spend time talking to friends than any other single activity, and children at this age are most happy when talking to peers (Larson, 2002; Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1977). Shulman et al (1997:613) describe the process of social networking: ‘Adolescent friends must negotiate the extent to which an individual is allowed within the emotional closeness of the relationship’, but these networks can be interrupted by changes in circumstances, for example moving home or moving school. Such transition or change can be particularly daunting for adolescents, and feelings of loneliness and disconnection can occur. Maintaining some link with an existing social network is particularly important, and can be supportive. The opportunity to use social networking sites online can help young people to adjust to such changing circumstances, and give them a sense of belonging and a place to focus their feelings of estrangement. This paper will examine research carried out over a period of 18 months with 28 children in early adolescence (aged 10 – 14) living in south-east England. Repeat visits were made to the children’s homes over a period of 18 months; communication on-line through social networks was filmed and discussed, and children explained the nature of their friendships, the importance of these, and how they changed over the period of the research. Children were fickle in their use of social networking sites, frequently changing from Bebo, to MySpace and latterly to Facebook. Young adolescents are probably more imaginative in the way they personalise their pages than adults, and they explore their identity through the use of photographs, anecdotes, and citations to friends. Support is given through working out concerns about bullying, sexuality, friendship, families, and school. While this may be possible face to face, the continued and ever-present opportunity to discuss these issues on social networking sites means that problems can be discussed, and in some cases, resolved, quite quickly. While much is heard about the ‘dark side’ of the internet, especially in relation to children (LSE, 2008; Ofcom 2008), children in this study appeared to benefit from the nature of their on-line communication with friends, and feel supported in sometimes difficult circumstances. There was however some naivety in their propensity to share everything online; the digital footprint they are establishing, and may later come to regret, highlights important questions for further research.
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