Home » Study finds online friendships offer key support for socially anxious youth

Study finds online friendships offer key support for socially anxious youth

Guy Hazlewood    July 5, 2024    3 min read   

New research from the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) reveals that online interactions can play a crucial role in fostering friendships and providing support for young adults who struggle with social anxiety.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour Reports, found that young adults with higher levels of social anxiety reported feeling more confident, comfortable, and open while interacting with close friends online compared to face-to-face interactions.

Lead researcher Dr. Riley Scott. Source: UniSQ

The study, which surveyed 520 young adults aged 17 to 25, highlights that these individuals engage more frequently in online communications and find these interactions to be more sincere and enjoyable.

Dr. Riley Scott, the lead researcher, spoke about the importance of understanding the perspectives of young people to provide meaningful support.

“Supporting young people to engage in positive interactions and relationships online is a topic of increasing discussion and concern in society,” Dr. Scott said.

“To provide support in a meaningful way, we must understand the perspectives of young people themselves and whether there are differences based on personal characteristics and vulnerabilities.”

Source: Pexels/Julia M Cameron

One significant advantage of online interactions, Dr. Scott explained, is the reduced pressure to respond immediately, which allows individuals to take their time crafting replies.

This can be especially beneficial for those with social anxiety, who may fear criticism or rejection in real-time conversations.

“Online interactions often don’t occur in real-time, which means we have more time to think about our replies, to construct messages, or even the choice to leave someone ‘on read’ if we’re not ready to reply,” she said.

“The time difference in online interactions often gives people a sense of control over their interaction.”

Additionally, the absence of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice in text-based communication can help socially anxious individuals feel more protected and safer.

Online platforms also offer a valuable space for socially anxious youth to practice social skills and receive social support that they might not be able to obtain in offline environments.

Dr. Scott’s research, which has spanned seven years, focuses on contemporary friendships and wellbeing, social media literacy, and the implications of online engagement for socially vulnerable youth.

Dr. Scott hopes that these findings will challenge some of the prevalent misconceptions about the negative impact of social media on young people’s mental health.

While acknowledging the risks associated with social media, she emphasises the importance of recognising its benefits.

“There are several risks associated with social media and internet use, but there are also many benefits that we don’t acknowledge as often,” she said.

“Young people, with and without social anxiety, often report social media (is) a vital source of friendship and connection.”

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Guy Hazlewood