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Social Networks and Social Development

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    Social networks are the hallmark of the modern age. For the first time in history, individuals are connected via electronic social networks that are unlike anything the world has ever seen. However, the development of these social networks has led to a shift in the way youths gain social intelligence and communicate with each other in person. This is a sample research paper that explores the nature of social networks and their impact on the development of social intelligence.

    The Importance of Young Adulthood in Social Development

    Young adulthood is an important time in a person’s life as they develop more intimate relationships with people outside of their family. As such, there is a narrow window of time to develop certain skills and truly become comfortable with others. Mainly, social intelligence through speaking and non-verbal communication is developed initially with the family and then extends out into peers after the age of twelve (Gregory & Soderman, 2010). Traditionally, students learn to interact with others in environments like school, the playground and other social groups. In the last ten years, much social engagement and interaction has shifted towards an online, computer mediated, context (CMC). This is heavily contrasted with face-to-face interaction (FTF) because the physical presence is not a factor. The impact of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have drastically changed the way in which youths gain social intelligence and communicate.

    Since being started in 2004 by then Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has grown to be the social network of choice for over six hundred million people (Ellison et al, 2007). A 2011 survey by Carroll & Kirkpatrick (2011) found that almost 80% of teens use social media sites to communicate with friends on a daily basis. Social media sites surely have become quite popular among teens as many scholars have further explored the impact on social development. It is important to recognize that there is a strong similarity between how social skills are learned in person and via CMC. Sheldon (2009) argued that the same means by which youths engage in uncertainty reduction practices and build attraction through self-disclosure is also present in CMC.

    Social Networks Provide Benefits for Development

    Social development has impacted youths because shy people have an opportunity to build relationships without necessarily taking on more interpersonal risk. For example, Baker et al (2010) remarked that the “online environment may provide a comfortable environment for shy individuals to interact with others” (p. 875). That is, shy people have a much greater opportunity for making friends and building relationships because they can use a wide range of devices such as cell phones, desktops, laptops and PDAs. A core component of gaining social intelligence is being able to actively seek and find information about others through traditional social cues such as style of dress, accent, physical appearance and social status. With CMC, youths can still develop this aspect of social intelligence because they have access to an overwhelming amount of information on the web through profiles, pictures and status updates (Baker et al, 2010).

    Developing the critical skill of approaching others and creating friendships is actually easier through CMC because there is much less social risk. Teens and young adults also have much more access to support groups and other sources of information because of its widespread availability (Carroll, 2011). Because there is wider availability of support and little threat of immediate humiliation, CMC provides an easier way for youths to explore these different social relationships.

    More Confidence

    With social network usage among young people, we see an increase of social confidence. CMC has also impacted social development of youths because it is possible to build more relationships with much less work, or communication. Ellison et al (2007) argued that youths have gained much more social capital due to the fact that they can keep weak ties in their networks. With more relationships developing with ease, youths are able to foster tighter relationships with people that they previously could not see that often (Ellison et al, 2007). This has contributed to a stronger development of confidence. For example, if youths are able to expand their network and keep friends without doing much work, then their self-esteem is boosted. This not only contributes to social intelligence, but it also brings about access to new information and tangible benefits later in life. In another article, Ellison et al (2010) also remarked that building stronger social ties through CMC has allowed youths to drastically change their conception of friendship. While people were historically limited to having friends in their physical proximity, youths can now develop friendships with others internationally. Consequently, social development has been accelerated for more extraverted individuals who want to pursue such avenues. 

    Negative Implications of CMC on Social Development

    Despite advantages for social development, CMC does also inhibit development other critical aspects of social intelligence. For example, morality is developed from a young age and is then learned through example as one gets older. Turiel (2002) argued that morality is heavily derived from seeing others interact with each other. Through physical interactions with others, youths develop skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence and an ability to express themselves with more comfort. However, CMC inhibits the physical aspect of learning traits such as morality. Moreover, social development is inhibited in terms of negative modes of communication.

    Cyberbullying is a common example of a phenomenon from physical interaction that carried over to the digital world (Greenfield, 2008). Greenfield (2008) lamented that youths are actually more prone to bullying on the web because of the impersonal nature of communication. As a result, some youths have discovered that their emotional well-being is not entirely safe and secure on the internet. Carroll (2011) sadly noted that CMC “has been connected to cases of youth suicide with teens known to engage in reading hurtful comments days before their suicide attempts” (Carroll, 2011). Clearly, social development is negatively impacted if students are exposed to much more intense levels of harassment and emotional duress. Such instances also result in youths being much more introverted and prone to depression (Valkenburg, 2006).

    Consequences of Social Media Interactions

    Youths prefer communicating via computers. Another major impact of computer-mediated-communication (CMC) on social development is that youths are not learning critical lessons regarding non-verbal communication. FTF communication is associated with learning physical cues, body language and emotional intelligence. Baker et al’s (2010) study found that many youths wholly prefer CMC over FTF. This means that youths have a stronger incentive to keep their relationships as digital as possible. Greenfield (2008) cited the reasoning for such behavior to be because disclosing information is much easier when the person is not physically present. When the personal information may be degrading, sensitive or embarrassing, texting or speaking via chat may decrease the discomfort level. As a result, youths are much more comfortable disclosing personal information and maintaining their friendships over the internet. Social development is severely inhibited with respect to going out and communicating with others in a tangible world.

    Lack of Development

    A major implication of CMC is that youths who prefer CMC over FTF will not develop the necessary skills to communicate with others in the workplace and other important social settings. For example, if a youth is uncomfortable discussing a personal matter in person with someone, then they may not have the option to do it digitally. In such instances, an inability to communicate in a FTF setting may result in increased passivity and apprehension towards expressing oneself (Greenfield, 2008). Research done by Rosen (2011) also agreed that youths are becoming much more uncomfortable with FTF as a direct result of CMC. Surely, this is a negative implication of CMC that stems from the fact that our society has truly adopted such modes of communication without much thought to how it affects youths. 

    Social Withdrawal

    CMC also contributes to social withdrawal in some cases. It is critical for youths to spend time with their peers and friends because it helps foster more intimate relationships. However, because youths are spending more time finding information about friends on the internet, they may be more prone to avoid some social situations. For instance, while Greenfield’s (2008) study found that “61 percent [of youths] feel that time online does not take away from time spent with friends,” almost 80 percent reported that their interactions with friends have shifted more towards being solely online rather than in person (p. 126). The reasoning for this behavioral pattern is due to the fact that CMC “facilitated the formation of “hyperpersonal” relationships – greater feelings of intimacy than would have otherwise been experienced in face-to-face (FTF) relationships.” (Sheldon, 2009, p.1). Ultimately, social development is negatively impacted by CMC because less time with FTF communication means that youths withdraw themselves from physically seeing one another more. 

    Body Language and Non-Verbal Communication

    Body language and non-verbal communication is developed for the purpose of being able to adequately judge another person’s feelings of intentions through their presence. It is a widely used and natural communication technique that is critical for social development. Youths learn to judge others’ attitudes, reactions and expressions much more clearly if they are aware of the non-verbal cues present. However, CMC has altered this because youths feel more comfortable in gaining information about others through online profiles and status updates (Ellison et al, 2010). Without adequate practice and use of non-verbal communication, key benefits are missed: enhanced social intelligence about others and enhanced intimate communication (Gregory & Soderman, 2010). According to Gibbs et al (2010), people feel much more comfortable looking online for social cues rather than in person. The negative implication of not learning non-verbal communication through body language is that youths have no incentive to learn it and may miss out on key social cues when the time arises. 

    References

    Baker, L., & Oswald, D. (2010). Shyness and online social networking service. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(7), 873-889.

    Carroll, J., & Kirkpatrick, R. (2011). Impact of social media on adolescent behavioral health. Oakland: California Adolescent Health Collaborative.

    Ellison, N., Steinfeld, C., & Lampe, C. (2010). Connection Strategies: Social Capital Implications of Facebook-enabled Communication Practices. New Media & Society, XX(X), 1-20.

    Ellison, N., Steinfeld, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook Friends: Social Capital and College Students Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143-1168.

    Gibbs, J., Ellison, N., & Lai, C. (2010). First Comes Love, Then Comes Google: An Investigation of Uncertainty Reduction Strategies and Self-Disclosure in Online Dating. Communication Research, 38(1), 70-100.

    Greenfield, P., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2008). Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships. The Future of Children, 18(1), 119-146.

    Rosen, L. (Director) (2011, August 9). Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids. 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Lecture conducted from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

    Sheldon, P. (2009). "I'll poke you. You'll poke me!" Self-disclosure, social attraction, predictability and trust as important predictors of Facebook relationships. Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 3(2), 1-23.

    Soderman, A., & Gregory, K. (2010). Guiding children's social development & learning. Clifton Park, NY: Cengage Learning.

    Turiel, E. (2002). The Culture of Morality: Social Development, Context, and Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Valkenburg, P., Peter, J., & Schouten, A. (2006). Friend Networking Sites and Their Relationship to Adolescents Well-Being and Social Self-Esteem. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9(5), 584-90.

     
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