3.2 Communicating Online

For the average teen in the U.S., online communication is about as common as face-to-face communication, texting with friends, or chatting while playing video games. Online communication is important for both peer and family relationships in the teen years.

Teen Behavior Online

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

Adolescent friendships are motivated by desires for trust, caring, and mutual respect. Online communication allows teens to participate in self-disclosure, micro-coordination, virtual taps on the shoulder, or, less positively, cyberbullying. While the platform for self-disclosure may look different than in previous generations, the motivations of figuring out who you are within the context of your peers is similar to the pre-digital era. Issues like cyberbullying appear different today, but in this age group it is often tied to offline bullying and teens’ need to gain social status. As such, teens’ online communication patterns are often linked to their developmental needs.

Social Media

Although Facebook was long the most popular and frequently used social media platform, among teens, Snapchat now takes the lead, with Instagram not too far behind. These two platforms are more visually-based, emphasizing photo and video sharing more than Facebook.

Regardless of which platform they use, teens use of social media is largely driven by the same motivations and come with the same benefits and drawbacks. For instance, in 2015, 34% of teen Facebook users did not know the size of their friend networks, providing some insight into teens’ understanding of privacy on networked spaces.1

More Connected or Less Connected?

What are the consequences of increased online communication and decreased in-person communication? Young people have traded hanging out with friends in person with spending time on social media. Is time spent online making youth more or less connected with each other?

The App Generation

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

Howard Gardner and Katie Davis concluded that there is probably no single answer. On one hand, teens find it easier to connect with friends and find people who share their interests. On the other hand, they also experience constant pressure to stay reachable and respond to friends who contact them online. Other consequences include the silo effect, or only receiving information and connecting with those who think and act similarly to themselves.

The Pew Research Center found that teens encounter a mix of positive and negative online experiences. Peers are a source of drama online, but they also provide each other with support.1 With such a wide range of experiences, it can be challenging to know how to support teens. Understanding how different social media platforms work and investigating how teens communicate online may be the first steps in making guidance relevant to their developmental needs.


  • Are digital communication technologies offering teens with greater opportunities? What aspects of these technologies concern you in regards to peer relationships and development?
  • What role can libraries play in supporting positive online interactions or helping teens cope with the negative aspects?

1: Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015, by Amanda Lenhart. Pew Research Center, 2015.