Internet usage has dramatically increased over the past decade, and adolescents, or digital natives as they are sometimes called, are readily immersing themselves in life online. In the past ten years, teens' use of the internet has risen from just under 75% of teens in 2000 to over 93% in 2009 (Lenhart et al., 2010). With so many teens online and able to access the array of offerings it provides, it is important that we understand how youth incorporate the internet into their lives. The goal of this introductory article is to provide a general familiarity with digital natives' use of social media, including potential benefits and concerns, to lay the groundwork for the articles that follow.
TEENS' SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE
Social media is an aspect of the internet which allows individuals and groups to create and publish online content, share the content, and interact about it. Different types of social media include;
* Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook and Myspace;
* Blogs (Blogspot, Wordpress, Xanga) and microblogs (Twitter);
* The creation and sharing of photos, videos, and artwork on sites like YouTube or Flickr;
* Online Gaming (World of Warcraft);
* Virtual worlds, which are online communities wherein the participant creates an identity and interacts with other community members, usually in a game-type format.
With 73% of online teens using social networking sites (see Figure 1.1), it is clear that social media is becoming an integral part of teens' communications with their peers and the outside world (Lenhart et al., 2010). Of these online teens using SNS, 91% say they mostly use the sites to keep in contact with friends they frequently see, 82% use the site to keep in touch with someone they rarely see, 72% make social plans, while 44% say they use them to meet new people (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). Figure 1.2 shows various SNS methods teens use to keep in contact with their friends.
BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Because of its ability to enhance connections by making them easily accessible, social media can yield many benefits for youth, including providing a virtual space for teens to explore their interests or problems with similar individuals, academic support, and strengthening their online communication skills and knowledge. One positive aspect of online communities is that youth can use them for academic assistance and support. There exists a wide variety of websites, like Dweeber.com, dedicated to helping with homework. KidZui, an internet browser designed for use by youth, created a homework assistance aspect that incorporates social networking. These avenues offer peer and adult assistance with homework and understanding academic concepts.
Many teens also look to online communities to find inclusion and support on the web where they may not find it in the offline world. These community websites are geared for different groups of teens, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth (www.queerattitude.com), teens of different religious affiliation (www.jvibe.com or www.lifeteen.com), and youth with mental health problems (www.copecaredeal.org), to name a few. Websites of this nature offer a venue for...
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