April 2, 2009

Teens say they really know online friends

Most U.S. high school teens use the Internet to connect with people they already know rather than strangers who might be predators, a study indicates.

Just 5 percent of respondents in grades 9-12 say they have friends they know only from the Internet, the University of California, Irvine, study found.

Most teens participating in the study say they use the Internet to stay in touch with existing friends and to make plans, education assistant professor Stephanie Reich said. They say they are not looking to meet people, she told USA Today.

It's possible to have face-to-face friends and go online and talk to people you don't hang out with in school, she said. It's a chance to have relationships in a different way.

Reich's research, which included in-person questionnaires and online surveys, was presented Thursday at the Society for Research in Child Development's biennial meeting in Denver.

For 44 percent of respondents, using social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook has no effect on their relationship with their friends, with 43 percent saying it makes them closer, the study found.

Ongoing studies show that social networking doesn't create risk for sexual victimization, USA Today quoted David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, as saying.

His center released a study Tuesday that found no evidence online predators were stalking or abducting victims based on information posted on social networking sites.