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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.2 Friendship made easy?

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Figure 3 Online friendships are with anyone, anywhere.

Establishing connections with peers and friends is one of the most fundamental aspects of childhood and social networks are a great resource for expanding children’s friendships (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 2008).

As you saw earlier, social networks allow children not only to connect to people within their own circle of face-to-face friends, but also to form connections with a much wider group of individuals, potentially all over the world. Digital optimists argue that it is now easier for children to join online communities with shared interests, and that barriers such as shyness, disability and distance are more easily overcome.

But this raises an intriguing question: are children forming a wider range of friendship types online compared to their traditional face-to-face interactions? And are these networks really influencing the nature and quality of their friendships?

While we as authors were discussing this, one of us summarised their view succinctly:

Friendships made through coincidence and proximity may offer a different experience to online friendships. Virtual friendships cut across boundaries and can be more immediate so being online is creating a different type of friendship requiring a new skill set.