Teenagers spend an ever-increasing amount of time online, much to the chagrin of their parents who can't seem to keep their children away from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
But despite the dangers that lurk on the Internet, the time that teens spend online can be crucial to their psychological development, says a Tel Aviv University researcher.
Prof. Moshe Israelashvili of TAU''s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education, with his M.A. student Taejin Kim and colleague Dr. Gabriel Bukobza, studied 278 teens, male and female, from schools throughout Israel.
They found that many teens were using the Internet as a tool for exploring questions of personal identity, successfully building their own future lives using what they discover on the Web.
Prof Israelashvili says that there are two different kinds of teenage “Internet addicts.”
The first group is composed of adolescents who really are addicted, misusing the Internet with things like online gaming and gambling or pornographic websites, isolating themselves from the world around them.
The other group of teens can be defined as “self clarification seekers,” whose use of the Internet helps them to comprehensively define their own identities and place in the world.
These teens tend to use the Internet for social networking and information gathering, such as on news sites or Twitter.
Prof. Israelashvili''s research encourages parents and educators to look at engagement with the online world as beneficial for teens.
He says that by the time teens reach the age of 18 or 19, they enter a new phase of life called “emerging adulthood,” in which they take the lessons of their adolescence and implement them to build a more independent life.
If they have spent their teenage years worrying only about their academic performance or gaming, they won''t be able to manage well during their emerging adulthood and might have difficulties in making personal decisions and relate well to the world around them, he adds.
The study has been published in the Journal of Adolescence.