Beyond Facebook: Real friendships can happen online

When I get home, I am guilty of a major teenage offense—hopping on the computer is often the first thing I do when I get home from school.

Most teens use the computer as a way to interact with their friends, but I use it to make new friends. Yes, a lot of teens do that so-called “sketchy” thing of meeting new peers online. People say you can’t be friends with someone you’ve never met, but in reality, that’s just not true.

Internet friend rule number one: Having 800 or more friends on Facebook doesn’t mean you have “internet friends.” Facebook, like any place else, basically acts like a popularity contest. It all depends on who you know. A friendship, though, is something gained through talk and time; clicking “accept” to some random person just to make it seem like you know a ton of people isn’t a friendship.

Internet friend rule number two: Trust your gut instincts. When meeting friends online, it’s important to trust yourself, as well as others. If something seems dangerous, sketchy or untruthful, there’s obviously something wrong and it’s best to end it there.

Internet friend rule number three: Parents, don’t freak. Trust us, your teens aren’t the only teens who spend hours online. Please don’t assume that every person your teen talks to online is either in jail, or some pedophile. Teens are almost guaranteed to meet more teens online. Your child can meet friends online; I’ve done it before, and most likely I will do it again.

I have a friend; I’ll call her Susan, even if that’s not her real name. I met Susan last spring on a popular art website. We started talking, and soon we were exchanging Skype accounts. Eight months later, I couldn’t imagine my life without her. We video chat with our other friends, we text and we sometimes even send each other letters, all because of a friendship with someone I met online who I probably would have never met were it not for the internet.

No, it’s not a secret and yes, our parents know we talk to each other. Our mothers approve, and we’re currently trying to plan a meet-up around my birthday this year.

Internet friend rule number four: Find common interests. Like a certain band? Start a blog about them. Like art? Share some of your best work. The internet is a great way to find people your age with common interests, and it’s a great tool to communicate and make friends if you consider yourself “socially awkward” or otherwise.

Internet friend rule number five: Probably one of the most important rules. Have fun. Internet friends can work like digital pen pals. You can meet people from all walks of life and learn more about a variety of people and places. Have fun, share some common interests, and with just a click you can go off to make some new friends.

–By Meredith Norman

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