Majority of NZ youth use Internet without conflict

A longitudinal study of New Zealand adolescents shows that 66 percent of 10-14 year old internet users do not demonstrate negative behaviour related to bullying in school, fighting with friends, family conflict and negative peer influence.Funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and led by the University’s Roy MacKenzie Centre for the Study of Families, the Youth Connectedness Project focuses on the ways in which 2173 adolescents connect to various areas of life, such as family, school, peers, community and technology.Research fellow Dr Jo Kleeb is currently comparing three groups of young people within the sample – those who do not use the internet; those who have online friends they have never met, and those who use the internet but do not have online friends.She says that 72 percent of respondents use the internet in their leisure time. Within this group, the prevalence of online friendships is equal between males and females but increases with age, from 27 percent of 10 to 11 year olds to 47.5 percent of 14 to 15 year olds.Indicators of conflict (bullying in school, fighting with friends, aggressive coping, family conflict and negative peer influence) were used to create ‘high risk’ and ‘low risk’ groups and compared against youth engagement with the internet. It was found that 48.5 percent of those with online friends fell into the high risk group, compared to 26 percent of internet users who do not have online friends and 33 percent of those who do not use the internet.Dr Kleeb says that although it is too early in the longitudinal research to draw conclusions, there are a number of possible explanations for these findings. One is that some young people interact with strangers online in order to vent the emotional stress from their daily lives with little or no consequence. Another is that some over-invest in online friendships, which leads to conflict with family and face-to-face peers. A third is that some online friends encourage young people to act aggressively.Dr Kleeb says the internet is a tool shaped by its users. “Young people routinely use the internet to maintain contact with friends and family who live both close by and further away. Also, at a time when young people have less freedom to roam, the internet is a way to connect with the world from the relative safety of their own home and their web-pages are a way of expressing their identity to others.”For these reasons she recommends that problem-solving around negative aspects of youth internet use needs to be owned by youth and worked through in partnership with them.For more information about the research please contact Dr Jo Kleeb: 04 463 7426.

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