Usage patterns of communication interfaces for social support among at-risk adolescents
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Social and interpersonal support has mostly been carried out face-to-face. However, the internet was able, in the last couple of decades, to facilitate social interactions through a range of computer-mediated communication (CMC) interfaces—from email applications, chat-rooms, forums, instant messages (IM), short text messages (SMS), social networks, and others. Various studies have examined how these interfaces influence interpersonal communication among adolescents from a wide spectrum of angles. Some studies examined the impact that CMC interfaces are having on written language Ling (2005); Segerstad (2002), while others examined the behavioral and economic effects which they applied to different users Yang (2003); Livingstone (2008). Our research aimed to examine the correlation between CMC interfaces and interpersonal social support among at-risk adolescents, with the goal of studying the patterns of use of today’s four most commonly used CMC interfaces: email, SMS, IM, and closed forums within social networks. An occasional sample was taken from two cities and involved 316 (n = 316) 8th graders who were identified by their teachers as being at-risk teenagers. Each teenager filled out a questionnaire Kraut (2002) which was adapted especially for this research in order to examine the patterns of use with the four CMC interfaces. The results indicated that instant-message (IM) and the short-message (SMS) interfaces were the most preferred interfaces for expressing social support among adolescents at-risk. These findings reflect the results of other studies, which showed a clear preference for the IM interface in normative adolescents Lenhart et al. (2001); Boneva et al. (2005). However, in contrast with these results, our study found that the conversations on social characteristics were more supportive than those on emotional characteristics. We found that the participating at-risk adolescents preferred the IM interface only when topics of conversations were related to the categories of ‘negative partner’ (conversations on topics such as complains and gossip). To a similar extent, they preferred the SMS interface only in the category of ‘social support’ (conversations on topics such as asking favors or advice and gossip), as opposed to email and chat interfaces. However, they preferred to a significant degree the chat interface when the conversations were on topics related to the category of ‘relationship partner’ (conversations on topics such as acquaintances and romance). These results indicate that there is a correlation between the type of the interface and the topics of conversation, and that at-risk adolescents prefer certain interfaces over others for conducting conversations of a different nature.
KeywordsAt-risk adolescents Social support Interpersonal computer interfaces Short messages Instant messaging
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