Connecting 'Round the Clock: Mobile Phones and Adolescents' Experiences of Intimacy

Connecting 'Round the Clock: Mobile Phones and Adolescents' Experiences of Intimacy

Emily Weinstein (Harvard University, USA) and Katie Davis (University of Washington, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch076


Mobile phone ownership is approaching ubiquity among contemporary adolescents and smartphone adoption continues to rise, affording unprecedented opportunities for social connection. Adolescents connect via text messaging and social media apps to sustain communication – often throughout their waking hours – with offline ties. Through both casual exchanges and intimate self-disclosure, adolescents reinforce and develop offline friendships and romantic relationships. Youth marginalized or socially isolated offline can also transcend geographic barriers and connect with new communities. However, digital technologies pose challenges to achieving intimate connections and online expression can complicate or even threaten offline relationships.
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Current Scientific Knowledge In Adolescence, Intimacy And Digital Technologies

Adolescence, Intimacy and Mobile Phones: The Context

The extent to which adolescents’ lives are saturated with technology is new, but the desire for connection is not. Adolescence is a decisive time for identity development, and intimate relationships with peers play an integral role in supporting identity achievement (Erikson, 1968). Through intimate self-disclosure with peers, adolescents explore, express and solidify their own identities (Sullivan, 1953). Adolescents’ close relationships provide social support and the experience of acceptance and belonging, which in turn facilitate favorable self-definition (Brechwald & Prinstein, 2011). The consistent relationship between intimacy and adjustment and competence – documented during adolescence, though not in the preadolescent years – further underscores the benefits of close social ties for adolescents (Buhrmester, 1990).

Connecting with others is by no means the only function of mobile phones: adolescents’ cellphones are often well equipped with options for entertainment, productivity, and distraction. Yet, the pervasiveness of mobile technology in adolescents’ communications with close others is both practically recognized and empirically documented. Based on their surveys of U.S.-based adolescents, Lenhart (2012) and Reich, Subrahmanyam and Espinoza (2012) found that adolescents use text messaging and social networking sites primarily in the service of connection with their offline friends.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Texting: Also called text messaging, is a text-based (rather than spoken) method of digital communication. Text messages are sent through mobile phones directly to one or more recipient(s).

Intimacy: Refers to close interpersonal relationships, especially those characterized by mutuality, self-disclosure and validation.

Social media: A term used to describe apps or online platforms that enable people to connect digitally with social networks.

Friendship: Refers to an intimate social connection between two people, often peers.

Adolescence: Encompasses the period between middle school life (approximately age 13) and emerging adulthood (approximately age 18).

Self-Disclosure: The communicative act of revealing information about oneself to others.

Mobile Phones: Also called cellular phones or cell phones, act as potent portals for connection; people can use mobile phones to communicate with others through text messaging or apps for instant messaging, blogging, tweeting, or social networking.

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