Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008
Society's traditional adolescent issues—intimacy, sexuality, and identity—have all been transferred to and transformed by the electronic stage. Among the hallmarks of the transformation are greater teen autonomy, the decline of face-to-face communication, enhancement of peer group relations at the possible expense of family relations, and greater teen choice. Given the connectedness between the physical and virtual worlds, the challenge is to keep adolescents safe (both physically and psychologically) while at the same time allowing for the explorations and interactions that are crucial for healthy psychosocial development. This conflict is nicely illustrated by instant messaging, which helps teens stay in touch with friends, but is also widely used for electronic bullying.93 Meeting strangers on social networking sites such as MySpace offers another example. Although such virtual contacts can endanger adolescents, research has found that interactions with strangers may also help alleviate the negative effects of social rejection in the physical world. The benefits of exploring identity and intimacy online must also be weighed against the harmful effects of viewing sexual content and being bullied online. One challenge for research is to understand how to enhance the benefits offered by electronic media while mitigating some of the dangers that they present. Another challenge is to design research that examines how online communication affects real-world communication and relationships. The thrust of the research at present suggests that real-world relationships and adolescent issues influence adolescents' electronic communication at least as much as electronic communication influences their real-world relationships and developmental outcomes.