Teens Make, Maintain Friendships Online, But Rarely Take Them Offline

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By Devin Coldewey

Teenagers rely heavily on cellphones, social networks and video games to keep in touch with existing friends and make new ones — but friendships made online rarely make it to the real world, a new Pew Research Center survey found.

More than half of the 1,060 teens surveyed had made a friend online, and more than a third had made several. But only 1 in 5 reported that they'd taken that friendship offline.

Related: Teens Use Variety of Social Media, But Facebook Still Supreme: Pew

Perhaps that just goes to show the comprehensiveness of the communication tools teens have. Some three-quarters of teens surveyed had smartphones, and a similar amount reported using social media and instant messaging to keep in touch with friends. Fifty-nine percent reported video chatting with their friends, and among boys especially, playing games with friends online (talking all the while) was a powerful way to bond with friends or meet new ones.

In fact, boys were more likely to make friends online in the first place: 61 percent reporting doing so versus 52 percent of girls. On the other hand, girls were more likely to spend time chatting with friends online or posting to social media — and also more likely to block or unfriend people following a breakup or fallout.

Pew Research Center

Teens aren't just blindly engaging with social media, though: fully 88 percent felt people overshared online, and a majority agreed that people can be both less "authentic and real" online — while also able to "show different sides of themselves." Almost half had been posted about in ways they couldn't control — a group no doubt overlapping with the two-thirds who reported experiencing drama on social media.

Related: Facebook in the Classroom? Some Schools Embracing Social Media

The surveys were gathered over 2014 and 2015, with focus groups conducted to add some color and ground truth to the statistics. The report is packed full of more interesting statistics about the differing habits among boys, girls, different races, incomes and other demographics. A previous report covered teen social media use more broadly, and an upcoming report will address how it figures in romantic relationships.