Early Adolescents' Use of Social Networking Sites to Maintain Friendship and Explore Identity: Implications for Policy

Barbie H. Clarke, University of Cambridge


This paper considers 10-14 year olds' adoption of digital technology, and the way in which the developmental tasks of early adolescence are played out within their everyday lives through their widespread interaction with digital media, considering both the social and the psychological processes that take place. It reflects on the concerns that have been expressed about children's use of digital social networking, but also looks at the benefits to children of using the media, and the implications for policymaking.

The paper recognises that the widespread adoption of digital technology at this age is deeply embedded in the social context of early adolescents' lives. While the mental processes that take place and the developmental stages have not changed, it may be that digital technology is being used to process some of the tasks of early adolescence, especially in identity formation, the importance and the influence of peers, and the way that emotional support is given and received. An ethnographic study was carried out over two years in the homes of twenty-eight children living in the south-east of England. Research included over 30 hours of filmed observation, diaries, friendship maps, individual interviews, friendship focus groups and an online bulletin board.

Early adolescence is viewed as a key stage in which emotional development can affect children's level of wellbeing, and friendship is especially important as they turn from their family to the outside world. In playing with identity, building relationships, maintaining friendships and turning to each other for encouragement and companionship, children gain 'digital agency'. This process may be beneficial and an important source of support and comfort to the young adolescent who is experiencing transition both cognitively, physically, and through change of school. Policy decisions need to be based on a sound understanding of how children use digital technology, raising awareness of the benefits as well as the potential risks, encouraging peer communication and support, and informing parents and teachers of children's digital world.

Recommended Citation

Clarke, Barbie H. (2009) "Early Adolescents' Use of Social Networking Sites to Maintain Friendship and Explore Identity: Implications for Policy," Policy & Internet: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 3.
Available at: http://www.psocommons.org/policyandinternet/vol1/iss1/art3