The Changing Views of Internet Relationships

Teens in the U.S. spend about nine hours a day online.

Teens in the U.S. spend about nine hours a day online.

With the increase of social media users rising each day, a new way of building relationships is being brought into the spotlight. Whether or not, it is safe, real, or beneficial in any way is the question social media users are left asking themselves.

These days, hundreds of apps, websites and online services provide a bridge between people no matter their location. It allows for friendships to be created, it allows for support groups to grow and it allows romances to blossom between two people and potentially pair them up to the point where a family is created. All that has to happen is someone hits send on that first message on facebook, set up a video call on skype, or sign up for a dating site.

In this way, teens from different backgrounds that face different circumstances come together today and speak about their opinions on the creation of relationships online. Many teens don’t have a firm opinion on “Internet friends.” There are many gray areas for them, as some open up to the idea due to the fact that it shows advances in technology, others realize the barriers created by technology, and how it diminishes human interaction.

The conversation primarily affects the younger generation, as they are the ones who are constantly on social media.

“On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment,” according to the report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology.

Nine hours is a lot of time for teens to be spending online, and this is where, when and how relationships form.

Thandi Moore, a high school senior at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA), believes that having Internet friends is pretty great. She says it allows people to broaden their horizons and meet people you probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Thandi recalls her tween days when she became friends with someone online who lived in Germany over the common interest of music.  Although Thandi says her connection was pure and innocent, she realizes that this isn’t always the case.

Thandi Moore agrees that there are positives and negatives to Internet friends.

Thandi Moore agrees that there are positives and negatives to Internet friends.

Thandi Moore, a high school senior at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA), believes that having Internet friends is pretty great. She says it allows people to broaden their horizons and meet people you probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Thandi recalls her tween days when she became friends with someone online who lived in Germany over the common interest of music.  Although Thandi says her connection was pure and innocent, she realizes that this isn’t always the case.

“It takes longer to form relationships [online] because it takes time to trust people on the Internet. The Internet is an enigma, you don’t know what’s going on, but you’re a part of it,” Thandi said.

Thandi doesn’t have Internet friends nowadays, however she does agree that it’s possible to have them as friends and it’s great due to the interchange of cultures and ideas, but there are barriers and hardships presented by the relationship — namely the lack of physical contact.

“Physicality in a relationship is important to me because I’m an affectionate person. Statistics show that hugging improves people’s mood I want to be able to provide that happiness for my friends,” she said.

Andres Hernandez, a senior at Forest Hills High School in Queens, NY, agrees that online friendships are different and that they provide barriers.

“I feel like Internet Friends are a non-realistic connection,” Andres  argues. “If you know this person through video, like frequent facetimes, then it’s okay, but if it’s always through a screen of text it’s not safe and there’s no trust, there’s no security on who you’re talking to.”

Hernandez doesn’t see the concept of Internet friends as entirely negative though.

“They are easy to relate to, you can set up the circumstances, the type of beliefs you want to share with them if I go onto a site like Tumblr, all it takes is a hashtag to see people that understand what you stand for, it’s good to have because they respect you and your experiences, in person you really have to spend time with people to understand their beliefs, but on Tumblr someone can list them in their bio, it’s that easy to relate to them. It’s easy, but then again, the joy and experience of learning about them are taken from you,” Andres said.

Hernandez’s beliefs began to shift upon reflecting on the topic, when asked if he believes someone can form the same bond with someone online compared to someone in person.

“I think that’s a very individual thing, because some people make connections better through words, it’s easier for them to open up in private settings and not face to face. I don’t think technology has created that concept, but it has further stimulated it at least among us. I think it’s okay, though, that’s just how some people are, it’s a way for shy people to tend to their social needs, really it’s a subjective question that comes down to the individual,” he adds.

An East Kentwood senior in Michigan, Elena Tran, had something much different to say. Elena is very active on social media in the gaming world, and that has made her have many relationships online. She says she has more friends online that in person, and finds herself being closer with Internet friends as opposed to her in-person school friends.

“I feel good about Internet friends. They’re easy to make, if you grow distant it’s easy to get back into contact with them, and if you see they aren’t your type of friend you want to have around you can just block them. You can’t do that in person, you don’t have to settle for having a toxic person in your life,” she said.

Elana believes that internet relationships are positive and can really make people happy, the only setback she sees again, is the lack of physicality.

“I would love to meet and live close by my Internet friends, but I know I cannot until I am older or if somehow we happened to agree to live together. My boyfriend also lives a state away from me, I used to see him every day in my neighborhood, and the lack of physical contact has strained our relationship. Even just seeing him makes me happy, video chat can only do so much. But the quality of our relationship allows us to go on, and that’s true for friendships as well,” she said.

A popular opinion on Internet relationships is that they are unsafe, but according to Elana, it’s really just an exaggeration.

“In this day and age the Internet itself serves as a vast tool to explore who it is you’re dealing with. If someone sends you a photo yet refuses to video chat, people aren’t stupid, you can easily image search through google and see where it may have come from,” she adds.

She also says it is important to know that people lie on the internet and that there’s only so much you can do. Teens need to be mindful of time and information they’ve had with the person. Teens should not over share online and should not provide strangers with social security numbers or bank account information.

– by Emily Artiles ’17

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