By Sekinah Brodie

Over the past five to eight years, we have witnessed a phenomenon begin and flourish like never before. This phenomenon is the entity that is, social media. Social media refers to web-based and mobile-based technologies which are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue between organizations, communities and individuals. One branch of social media that has undeniably taken on a life of its own is social networking.

From MySpace to Facebook and now the more popular Twitter, these social networking websites have introduced ways to communicate that was not present 10 to 20 years ago. Social media has many advantages to those who utilize it properly—advertising opportunities, avenues to display talents and a way to communicate with people you cannot physically talk to. At the same time, social media has brought about many critical changes to the everyday person. One major change has been a breakdown of interpersonal communication skills, mainly in the upcoming youth demographic, ages 13 to 24 and younger, of course.

Social Media and the Breakdown of Interpersonal Skills in Teenagers

Social media destroying impacting teen interpersonal skills 2 people red and green talking

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Teenagers, today especially, are growing up and developing their social skills online. It is to the point now, where most youth prefer meeting people over a virtual world, instead of speaking face-to-face. Therefore, interpersonal communication skills that used to be a necessity are no longer learned or stressed at a young age.

According to a study conducted by Courtney Turnbull of Elon University, Generation Y and the Baby Boomer generation are affected differently by computer-mediated communication. In the 2010 study, “Mom Just Facebooked Me and Dad Knows How to Text,” Turnbull conducted a 223 person study and 10 in-depth interviews that display how face-to-face communication is the ideal form of communicating but is not always possible with the hectic schedules that people have day to day.

The study finds there is an increase in the quantity of interpersonal communication due to the ease of getting in touch via the Internet, but this increase comes at the cost of quality. Turnbull states that this is the result of text messaging and email. By using short, ambiguous messages Generation Y is missing out on quality conversation.

To help make up for lackluster conversation, both generations agreed that the best of both worlds was communicating via video chat programs, such as Skype and “iChat.” In addition, Turnbull concluded the study by stating that though there is a generational gap, it is diminishing. “Although the Baby Boomers have not caught up entirely with the tech savvy Generation Y, they are an upcoming force in the world of computer-mediated communication,” according to Turnbull’s study.

Online Communication can be Beneficial—in Moderation

According to licensed professional counselor Jared Pizzitola, “very important social skills develop from difficult face-to-face conversations.” With 85 percent of 13 year olds on Facebook, according to ChildrenOnline.org, it is important for parents to teach their children from an early age how to use online communication so it is not detrimental to their communication skills, especially with face-to-face interactions.

Pizzitola suggests parents learn how to use Facebook so they can monitor their teen’s presence online. Teens should be limited to having friends on Facebook that are people they know, that are their teen’s age and they are friends with offline. Parents should also talk to their teens about what happens online because “conversations are the most important aspect to understand behavior,” according to Pizzitola.

Social media destroying impacting teen interpersonal skills groups of people talking

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Shy Teens Can Practice Their Social Skills Online Before Interacting Face-to-Face

Although it has been shown that communicating online can diminish interpersonal skills or deter the building of face-to-face interactions, there are some benefits of communicating via social media. Pizzitola states that communicating online is an effective way for kids to get into contact with one another—so long as there is no bullying involved. Shy or more isolated kids will have a chance to open up and practice their social skills while interacting with others online, according to Pizzitola.

A 2006 study conducted at the University of Sydney, Australia, suggests that the “Internet may be used as a forum for expanding social networks and consequently enhancing the change of meaningful relationships, self-confidence, social abilities and social support,” so long as a person is not online for extended periods of time. Moreover the study stated that “‘chat’ users who are socially fearful may be using the Internet as a form of low-risk social approach and an opportunity to rehearse social behavior and communication skills, which, may help them improve interaction with offline, face-to-face, social environments.”

The Internet and social media have reached a point of no return and will only become more intricate as the years go on. The days of face-to-face communication being the sole means of interaction are long gone, but social media has proven to be beneficial to an exponentially large audience, and will continue to grow due to new innovations. If used in excess, communicating via cyberspace can inhibit teens’ communication skills, but if used in moderation, can help them become more comfortable communicating with their peers if they are too shy to do so in person. More importantly, “the key is to make sure your kids know that real living takes place offline,” according to Pizzitola.

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