You’ve probably heard the common claim that the world of social media and online messaging only provides superficial interactions. While social media embellishment, a general sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), and online safety are all important factors to consider when it comes to online connections, many factors point to stronger friendships for kids in the age of technology. A University of California, Irvine study found that online childhood friendships are “just as meaningful as face-to-face ones,” even leading to additional opportunities for strengthened bonds.
Online schooling can be the perfect space for those safe connections. In an episode of Stride’s K12 On Learning podcast, recent Indiana Digital Learning School graduate Perrena Stockard talked about meeting her best friend through an online school. Stockard and her friends may not have met otherwise without online school, as they live in different parts of the state. “The friends that I have made are life-long,” Stockard says.
For shy or introverted communicators
Sometimes, a simple first hello can start a years-long friendship. But that first confrontation can be harder for many kids who are developing their social skills, are more reserved, or struggle with face-to-face communication. Kids may find comfort and confidence behind a screen in a familiar, controlled environment. Without the boundaries of school cliques or other divisions felt through in-person settings, kids and teens can explore online friendships on a level playing field, free of the intimidating and harmful barriers of popularity.
For kids with unique interests
Maybe they’re a fan of an obscure TV show, an expert at a unique hobby, or a self-starter in the grown-up world of stock trading. Whatever the case may be, it’s not always easy to find others with similar interests. Technology and online clubs make it easier for kids to make solitary hobbies an opportunity for bonding. Like online high school student Destiny Wells, whose love of literature lead to spaces for poem sharing and book club discussions. Wells even started a club with online friends who shared passions for writing: “Creative Writing Club is a club that I actually created with my best friends, and it is amazing to get to participate socially and creatively with this group.”
Gone are the days of hangouts restricted to the schedules of parents and fellow friends. Online communications such as video calls and texting mean that kids have more access to their friends than ever before. The Pew Research Center found that six-in-ten teens spend time with their friends online everyday, meaning more quality time and conversations. Solely in-person friendship has its physical limitations, with the same teens surveyed citing obligations making scheduling hard and finding transportation as reasons why a majority of time with friends was spent online.
When a teen goes through hardship, sometimes the greatest asset is a friend. But the comfort and advice of a friend don’t have to wait until the next day at school anymore. Friendships can naturally deepen through the increased access to share photos from their day or to provide a listening ear right when it’s needed most.
For less conflict
All friendships have their ups and downs. Just as friendships at a young age provide emotional and social support, they also provide opportunities for problem-solving and resolution. Fighting and misunderstanding in any relationship is normal, but having additional avenues for solving conflict may lead to a sense of greater security and understanding. Researcher Stephanie Reich says this: “It’s emotionally intense to face somebody in person and apologize and hash through stuff. But if you could text it back and forth, or if you could comment it back and forth, then it’s a little bit safer-feeling.” By avoiding rash, reactionary responses, children can learn to fully listen to where the other is coming from and how to compose a thoughtful response that communicates both understanding and personal feelings. Having experience with more controlled conflict response will improve their reactions online and offline.
For safe interactions
A drawback and worry surrounding online friendship is the anonymity technology provides. When talking to others online, children and parents should proceed with a healthy amount of caution. Children should only talk to those whose online self is proven to be the same as their real-life identity and never give out personal information. With the help of a Stride K12 online school, however, students can feel confident that they’re talking to kids their own age who don’t have to remain strangers. Whether connecting over shared-interest online clubs or classes, students can gain access to lasting friendships aided by technological convenience. Just because most of the bonding happens behind a screen doesn’t mean those foundational conversations won’t be just as meaningful.