According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, technology and social media are more integral to teenagers' social lives than ever. The extensive study found pervasive differences between the ways teenage girls and boys use technology to socialize.
The majority of teenagers have made at least one friend online, and more than a quarter of respondents said that they made more than five friends through the internet. Those relationships tend to remain in the digital world, though. While 57% of teens reported making friends online, only 20% of teens said they met an online friend in person.
Pew found a strong gender gap in the way that teenagers make friends online. 78% of girls who made friends online did so through social media, like Facebook or Instagram, while only 52% of boys made their online friends through social media. Instead, 57% of boys said they made their friends through online gaming, compared to 13% of girls.
According to the study, video games serve a "critical role" in teenage boys' social lives, with 84% of boys saying they play them. Most teenagers play video games in person or online with friends they already know. And 42% of teenage boys play video games in person with their friends on a daily or weekly basis. The study found that boys were more likely than girls to use video games as a conduit for conversation, while girls tended to keep up with friends through texting and social media.
Social media plays a similar role in making teens feel more connected to their friends. More than three-quarters of teens use social media, and of that population, 70% said they "feel better connected to their friends’ feelings through social media." But social media isn't only used by teenagers to build relationships: 63% of girls (compared to 53% of boys) reported unfriending or unfollowing former friends. Girls were also far more likely to block or delete pictures of people they no longer liked.