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THE RELATIONSHIP OF LONELINESS

AND SOCIAL ANXIETY WITH


CHILDRENS AND ADOLESCENTS
ONLINE COMMUNICATION

Luigi Bonetti, BEdStud

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Marilyn Campbell


Associate Supervisor: Dr. Linda Gilmore

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of


Master of Education (Research)
School of Learning and Professional Studies
Faculty of Education
QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
2009

Keywords
Adolescents, children, friends, Internet, loneliness, motives, online communication,
relationships, social anxiety, well-being.

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Abstract
Children and adolescents are now using online communication to form and/or
maintain relationships with strangers and/or friends. Relationships in real life are
important for children and adolescents in identity formation and general development.
However, social relationships can be difficult for those who experience feelings of
loneliness and social anxiety. The current study aimed to replicate and extend research
conducted by Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), by investigating differences in online
communication patterns between children and adolescents with and without selfreported loneliness and social anxiety. Six hundred and twenty-six students aged 10-16
years completed a questionnaire survey about the amount of time they engaged in online
communication, the topics they discussed, who they communicated with, and their
purposes of online communication. Following Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), loneliness
was measured with a shortened version of the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3)
developed by Russell (1996), whereas social anxiety was assessed with a sub-scale of
the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (La Greca & Lopez, 1998). The sample was
divided into four groups of children and adolescents: 220 were non-socially anxious
and non-lonely, 139 were socially anxious but not lonely, 107 were lonely but not
socially anxious, and 159 were lonely and socially anxious. A one-way ANOVA and
chi-square tests were conducted to evaluate the aforementioned differences between
these groups.
The results indicated that children and adolescents who reported being lonely
used online communication differently from those who did not report being lonely.
Essentially, the former communicated online more frequently about personal things and
intimate topics, but also to compensate for their weak social skills and to meet new
people. Further analyses on gender differences within lonely children and adolescents
revealed that boys and girls communicated online more frequently with different
partners. It was concluded that for these vulnerable individuals online communication
may fulfil needs of self-disclosure, identity exploration, and social interactions.
However, future longitudinal studies combining a quantitative with a qualitative
approach would better address the relationship between Internet use and psychosocial
well-being. The findings also suggested the need for further exploration of how such
troubled children and adolescents can use the Internet beneficially.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I: Introduction............................................................................................. 1
Background to the Study ...................................................................................... 1
Diffusion of Computer-Mediated Communication............................................. 1
Computer-Mediated Communication as a Means to Form and Maintain
Relationships through Self-Disclosure.............................................................. 2
The Internet and Psychological Well-Being: Loneliness and Social Anxiety ..... 3
Statement of the Problem ..................................................................................... 5
Purpose of the Study ............................................................................................ 6
Research Questions.............................................................................................. 6
Significance of the Study ...................................................................................... 7
Outline of the Study.............................................................................................. 7
Chapter II: Literature Review................................................................................... 8
Loneliness and Social Anxiety in Childrens and Adolescents Social Life............ 8
Loneliness ........................................................................................................ 8
Social Anxiety ................................................................................................ 12
Childrens and Adolescents Use of Internet Communication ............................. 16
Childrens and Adolescents Online Social Life.................................................. 18
Lonely and Socially Anxious Children and Adolescents Communicate Online .... 21
Research Questions............................................................................................ 22
Chapter III: Method ............................................................................................... 24
Research Design ................................................................................................ 24
Participants ....................................................................................................... 24
Measures ........................................................................................................... 26
Procedure .......................................................................................................... 34
Data Analysis..................................................................................................... 35
Chapter IV: Results................................................................................................ 37
Patterns of Online Communication: General Descriptives ................................. 37
Frequency and Duration of Online Communication ....................................... 37
Topics of Online Communication ................................................................... 37
Partners of Online Communication ................................................................ 39
Purposes of Online Communication ............................................................... 40
Age Differences in Patterns of Online Communication....................................... 43
Age Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online
Communication .............................................................................................. 43
Age Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online Communication 43
Topics. ....................................................................................................... 44
Partners. .................................................................................................... 46
Purposes. ................................................................................................... 47
Gender Differences in Patterns of Online Communication ................................. 49
Gender Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online
Communication .............................................................................................. 49
Gender Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online
Communication .............................................................................................. 50
Topics. ....................................................................................................... 50
Partners. .................................................................................................... 52

Purposes..................................................................................................... 53
Relationships among Loneliness/Social Anxiety and Online Communication ...... 56
Group Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online
Communication .............................................................................................. 56
Group Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online Communication
....................................................................................................................... 57
Topics......................................................................................................... 58
Partners...................................................................................................... 60
Purposes..................................................................................................... 61
Age and Gender Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online
Communication within the Lonely But Not Socially Anxious plus the Lonely And
Socially Anxious Groups................................................................................. 63
Age and Gender Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online
Communication within the Lonely But Not Socially Anxious plus the Lonely And
Socially Anxious Groups................................................................................. 64
Topics......................................................................................................... 64
Partners...................................................................................................... 65
Purposes..................................................................................................... 65
Chapter V: Discussion............................................................................................ 67
Age Differences in Patterns of Online Communication ....................................... 67
Gender Differences in Patterns of Online Communication.................................. 68
The Relationship of Loneliness and Social Anxiety with Childrens and
Adolescents Online Communication .................................................................. 70
Limitations and Future Directions...................................................................... 74
Conclusion ......................................................................................................... 76
References ............................................................................................................. 79
Appendix A............................................................................................................ 93

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List of Tables
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Participants........................................... 25
Table 2. Parents Socio-Economic Status............................................................... 27
Table 3. List of Topics of Online Communication................................................... 28
Table 4. List of Partners of Online Communication................................................ 30
Table 5. List of the Five Motive Scales Including Purposes of Online Communication
.............................................................................................................................. 31
Table 6. Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or
Often Communicated Online about each of the Listed Topics .................. 38
Table 7. Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or
Often Communicated Online with each of the Listed Partners ................. 40
Table 8. Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or
Often Communicated Online for each of the Listed Purposes Included in
Five Motive Scales................................................................................... 41
Table 9. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Topics ............................................................................ 44
Table 10. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Partners......................................................................... 46
Table 11. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Purposes Included in Five Motive Scales ....................... 47
Table 12. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of
Online Communication Topics................................................................. 51
Table 13. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of
Online Communication Partners ............................................................. 53
Table 14. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of
Online Communication Purposes Included in Five Motive Scales............ 54
Table 15. 95% Confidence Intervals of Pairwise Differences in Mean Amount of
Online Communication............................................................................ 57
Table 16. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social
Anxiety in terms of Online Communication Topics................................... 58
Table 17. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social
Anxiety in terms of Online Communication Partners ............................... 60
Table 18. Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social
Anxiety in terms of Online Communication Purposes Included in Five
Motive Scales .......................................................................................... 61
Table 19. Summary of Multiple Linear Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Amount of Online Communication (n = 266) ........................................... 64

List of Figures
Figure 1. Distribution of Scores for Amount of Online Communication (age)........ 43
Figure 2. Distribution of Scores for Amount of Online Communication (gender)... 50

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Statement of Original Authorship


The work contained in this thesis has not been previously submitted to meet
requirements for an award at this or any other higher education institution. To the best of
my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written
by another person except where due reference is made.

Signature: _________________________

Date:

_________________________

viii

Acknowledgements

Many special thanks to my Australian supervisors, Dr. Marilyn Campbell and Dr.
Linda Gilmore, who spent an enormous amount of time reading and editing this
thesis. Not only am I very grateful to them for their mentorship on this project, but
also for our friendly relationship, at times crazy and funny, throughout my journey as
a research student. More importantly, they set an example for me to be a rigorous
and autonomous scholar, by always challenging me on my ways of thinking; they
definitely taught me to never give up whenever I struggled with lack of selfconfidence!
Needless to say, I extremely appreciate the help and encouragement I received from
other people as well. First and foremost, I am indebted to my family and thankful to
my Italian supervisors, who in 2007 all gave me the opportunity to conduct my first
research abroad and to pick this wonderful country (Australia) in order to continue
my education. But I will never forget either how amazing my partner and best
friend Trina plus my statistical advisor Ray were at providing me with their moral,
editorial, and statistical support. Last but not least, I would also like to acknowledge
all my colleagues at QUT who I shared an office and many jokes with (Lutz, Uke,
Elham, Janet, and Cappy), as well as Jan, David, and Mark for their extra feedback.
All these people therefore deserve exceptional recognition for their invaluable
contributions to this thesis but perhaps above all for their patience in tolerating me
for either longer or shorter periods of time!

ix

Chapter I: Introduction
Background to the Study
Diffusion of Computer-Mediated Communication
Computers offer a wide range of informational, entertainment, and
communicative services (Pornsakulvanich, 2005). The focus of this study, regarding
these devices, is on computer-mediated communication (CMC), which Walther
(1992) defined as synchronous and asynchronous electronic mail and computer
conferencing by which senders encode in text messages that are relayed from
senders computers to receivers (p. 52). CMC technologies have widely developed
their functions since the early nineties and are now frequently used by individuals
and work places (Pornsakulvanich, 2005).
In modern society computer-mediated communication is increasingly
common among children and adolescents (Green et al., 2005). E-mail usage has
steadily decreased among them over the past few years, with texting, Instant
Messaging (IM), and the current social networking sites now being preferred
mediums for communication, as they facilitate more instantaneous contact with
friends (Lenhart, Madden, Rankin Macgill, & Smith, 2007). Lenhart and Madden
(2007) highlighted in their study that 55% (N = 935) of American children and
adolescents aged between 12- and 17-years reported using online social networking
sites to communicate with people. Similarly, Livingstone and Bober (2005) in a
national survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that 55% (N = 1,511) of
children and adolescents aged between 9-19-years sent instant messages. This
research concluded that while the conversational content was often mundane,
participants reported that they valued highly constant contact with friends but were
generally wary about talking to strangers online. Although they reported that talking
to people online was less satisfying than talking to people in real life, they noted that
the advantages of online communication were privacy, confidentiality, and intimacy.
In Canada, children and adolescents reported that their most memorable
Internet experiences involved connecting with friends and making new friends
(ERIN Research Inc., 2003). In a representative Israeli sample of individuals aged
12-18 (N = 980), Mesch and Talmud (2007) found that the social bond was stronger

as a function of how similar an online friend was in terms of their gender and
residence. In some Asian cultures such as in Hong Kong or Taiwan, adolescents and
young adults spend much of their spare time on ICQ, an Internet tool that facilitates
the exchange of instant messages between friends (Leung, 2002). In Singapore, a
study found that 16% (N = 1,124) of Internet users aged from 12- to 17-years
engaged in a face-to-face meeting with someone whom they first encountered online
(Liau, Khoo, & Ang, 2005).
Recent studies have shown that children and adolescents who make new
friends online sometimes allow these relationships to move to face-to-face meetings
and then to become increasingly closer (Mesch & Talmud, 2007). These friendships
are referred to as mixed-mode friendships (Walther & Parks, 2002). Even when one
does not meet others offline, the Internet may be used as a medium to expand their
social skills set, allowing them to keep in close contact with others (Stevens, 2006).
Thus, evidence shows that in various countries, the Internet is a major part of
childrens and adolescents everyday lives, particularly as a medium for the
formation and/or maintenance of their social relationships (Haythornthwaite &
Wellman, 2002; Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2003).
Computer-Mediated Communication as a Means to Form and Maintain
Relationships through Self-Disclosure
Essentially, people have basic interpersonal needs to be included and loved,
but also to belong and have relationships (Pornsakulvanich, 2005). Therefore,
maintaining at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant
relationships is a fundamental human motivation for engaging in social interactions
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995). It is through communication and interaction with others
that the interpersonal needs for inclusion, affection, approval and control are fulfilled
(Kaplan, Cassel, & Gore, 1977; Schutz, 1966). Forming new relationships and
exploring new ideas or roles are in particular two crucial developmental tasks for
children and adolescents (Erikson, 1963; Harter, 1999; Schaffer, 1996).
However, an important determinant of ones ability to form and maintain
quality close relationships is their ability to intimately self-disclose (Knapp &
Vangelisti, 2000). Sharing of personal information is influenced by the breadth
(content areas) and depth (intimacy level) of communications (Altman & Taylor,

1973; Leung, 2002). In order for intimate self-disclosure to take place, generally
relationship partners must like and trust one another.
Several studies have demonstrated that online communication promotes
intimate self-disclosure (Joinson, 2001; Tidwell & Walther, 2002). For some people,
the relative anonymity of the Internet greatly aids safe self-disclosure and expression
of ones inner or true self (McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002). The Internet allows
a person to control information communicated to others (Peter & Valkenburg, 2006);
also, people on the Internet can choose to be invisible in terms of physical
appearance and hence they may even give false information (McKenna & Bargh,
2000; Peter & Valkenburg, 2006). Therefore, in online attraction what is important is
ones perception of the other person (Levine, 2000), and an impression of someone
else can only be formed through the information that a person chooses to impart
(Bonebrake, 2002). However, Pornsakulvanich, (2005) argues that the negation of
physical proximity online offers opportunities for people to get in touch with others
in ways that may not be achieved in face-to-face interactions.
In addition, socially interactive technologies provide people with a means to
alter and experiment with their identities by disguising their real self (Gross, 2004;
Leung, 2003; Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, & Tynes, 2004; Turkle, 1995; Valkenburg
& Peter, 2008). Erikson (1959) believed that the major psychosocial task faced
during childhood and adolescence was for individuals to develop stable and
consistent gender, sexual, moral, political, and religious identities. These identities
initially vary across relational contexts, such as within the family, school or peer
group, but ultimately should move towards transformation into an integrated self
(Marcia, 1993). The fact that children and adolescents engage in online social
interactions provides opportunities for interesting research on the impact of the
Internet on their personality, and the implications for their self and identity formation
(McKenna & Bargh, 2000).
The Internet and Psychological Well-Being: Loneliness and Social Anxiety
The introduction of the Internet has given rise to a debate on whether online
communication impacts positively or negatively on social adjustment and
psychological well-being (Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004). Subjective well-being,
whose assessments include both cognitive and affective components, refers to how
people experience their lives in regard to dimensions of life satisfaction and positive
3

emotions (Diener, Suh, & Oishi, 1997). Two conditions, however, affect a persons
well-being being associated with negative emotions: these are loneliness and social
anxiety.
Valkenburg and Peter (2007b) reviewed the research on Internet
communication from its early history to recent times. To explain with whom and
how children and adolescents go online, they first introduced two contrasting
hypotheses called reduction and stimulation of the closeness to friends. Previous
research seems to favour the reduction hypothesis. Children and adolescents use the
Internet mainly to communicate with strangers. This reduces the quality of their
existing friendships and social involvement (Locke, 1998). If Internet use is
excessive and lessens the amount of time that could be spent communicating face-toface with friends or family members (Nie & Erbring, 2000), it impacts on peoples
general well-being and results in higher rates of loneliness, as documented in a
frequently cited study by Kraut et al. (1998).
Recently, however, Valkenburg and Peter (2007b) identified findings more
consistent with the stimulation hypothesis. That is, children and adolescents
communicate online with existing friends to consciously influence their peer
networks (Bryant, Sanders-Jackson, & Smallwood, 2006). This hypothesis goes on
to suggest that the Internet has become a handy method of communication that
fosters social support, without, in theory, reducing the quality of well-being (Katz &
Rice, 2002). This gives rise to the basis for the current thesis. Does Internet use
increase loneliness, or are lonely individuals more likely than non-lonely individuals
to be drawn to the Internet? The direction of causality underlying this relationship is
uncertain (Kraut, Kiesler, Boneva, & Shklovski, 2006; Morahan-Martin &
Schumacher, 2003).
Indeed, neither the reduction nor the stimulation hypothesis takes into
account the antecedents of online communication, which are still expressed by two
other opposing hypotheses identifying the types of children and adolescents that are
most likely to be attracted to the Internet (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b). Some studies
support a social compensation hypothesis, that is, lonely individuals turn to online
communication because they have difficulty developing friendships in their real lives
(Amichai-Hamburger & Ben-Artzi, 2003; Amichai-Hamburger, Wainapel, & Fox,
2002; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b). This hypothesis argues that contrasting features
of online communication may assist children and adolescents to overcome their
4

innate shyness and inhibitions which typically hinder their experiences in face-toface interactions, resulting in online relationships appearing more attainable
(McKenna et al., 2002). Other studies support a rich-get-richer hypothesis, which
asserts that non-lonely individuals turn to online communication and use the Internet
as just another venue where they can practise their already strong social skills to get
in touch with peers (Kraut et al., 2002; Wstlund, Norlander, & Archer, 2001;
Weiser, 2001).
The social compensation and the rich-get-richer hypotheses also apply to
socially anxious and non-socially anxious individuals. The former it is argued as
using online communication as a means to meeting basic needs for belonging and
intimacy (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). The latter also
communicate online but, unlike socially anxious individuals, they have little need to
express their true selves (McKenna et al., 2002).
In summary, some people have social and psychological conditions that may
affect ways and reasons why they use the Internet to fulfil their needs (Katz,
Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974). Theories that were developed in the second half of the
nineties assumed that loneliness and/or social anxiety determined the frequency and
nature of social interaction on the Web (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007c). Later, these
personality variables were recognized as possible predictors of childrens and
adolescents likelihood to utilise online communication (Gross, Juvonen, & Gable,
2002; Kraut et al., 2002).
Statement of the Problem
Research over the past decade has investigated peoples use of Internet
communication for social purposes; however, these studies have neglected to
examine the influence of loneliness and social anxiety on the usage of computermediated

communication

(Pornsakulvanich,

2005).

Moreover,

the

social

compensation and the rich-get-richer hypotheses are inadequate at explaining how


particular individuals communicate online to maintain and/or to form friendships.
Indeed, such hypotheses do not take into consideration the fact that people may vary
in their motives for using the Internet, which are relevant in describing its
psychosocial consequences (Peter, Valkenburg, & Schouten, 2005; Ruggiero, 2000).
Research to date has therefore provided inconclusive findings regarding the

relationship between Internet use and well-being. Valkenburg and Peter (2007a)
suggested that this is because such a relationship has been investigated in a linear
way based on a simple main effects model (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b). Boase and
Wellman (2006) refuted this theoretical framework, in which the features and
content of computer-mediated communication are believed to affect childrens and
adolescents attitudes, thoughts, and behaviours (Klapper, 1960), and pointed to the
fact that CMC has no direct effect on psychosocial development. The present study
argues that the amount, topics, partners, and purposes of online communication are
formed patterns that provide underlying mechanisms of its uses and effects; as such,
these mechanisms need to be identified and examined (Gross et al., 2002;
Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b).
Purpose of the Study
Building on the work of Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), this study explored
how much, about what, with whom, and why participants with self-reported
loneliness and/or social anxiety used the Internet for social communication as
compared with participants who did not report significant loneliness and/or social
anxiety. In Australia, Donchi and Moore (2004) and Mazalin and Moore (2004) have
examined the relationship between Internet use and well-being, but these authors
sampled mainly young adults. The current research, instead, targeted 626 children
and adolescents aged 10-16 years-old.
Research Questions
Given what is identified as the purpose of the study, the following related
research questions were addressed:

1:

Are there age differences in childrens and adolescents use of online


communication?

2:

Are there gender differences in childrens and adolescents use of online


communication?

3:

Are there differences in patterns of online communication for lonely and/or


socially anxious children and adolescents?

Significance of the Study


Clarification of differing online communication use between children and
adolescents with self-reported high levels of loneliness and/or social anxiety and
those with low scores may lead to improved understanding of the role that the
Internet plays in the pursuit of either social support or escape among children and
adolescents with these symptoms (Stroschein, 2006). During childhood and
especially in adolescence, forming and maintaining close relationships is a core task
in the process of identity experimentation and establishment (Kagan & Gall, 1998;
Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). For those individuals who experience loneliness and/or
social anxiety, these routine stages that all individuals must traverse can be
particularly distressing and anxiety provoking (Altman, 2000). Social skills are vital
to ones ability to communicate and to form close relationships with others. If
children and adolescents do not learn appropriate social behaviours, this may have a
profound impact on their ability to function in life across familial, social, school, and
work domains (Altman, 2000).
Outline of the Study
Chapter 1 presents an overview of the study. Next, Chapter 2 contains a
discussion of the literature on loneliness and social anxiety among children and
adolescents both in their offline and online settings, with particular attention to
Internet communication. Chapter 3 presents the methodology implemented for data
collection and data analysis used in the study. This includes descriptions of the
sample, measures, procedure, research questions, and statistical analyses used in the
study. Chapter 4 reports on the findings of the study, which includes a summary of
preliminary analyses and significant results for each research question. Finally,
Chapter 5 includes a discussion of the findings of the study followed by a description
of the limitations, implications and recommendations for future research.

Chapter II: Literature Review


Loneliness and Social Anxiety in Childrens and Adolescents Social Life
Loneliness
Children as young as five or six years old have a basic understanding of
loneliness (Asher & Paquette, 2003). Kindergarten and first-grade children in a study
by Cassidy and Asher (1992) responded to a series of questions regarding their
concepts of loneliness, including where it comes from and what one might do to
overcome this feeling. The researchers found that for children loneliness involves a
combination of isolation and a depressed affect. Children may experience loneliness
at times such as when there is nobody to play with; hence, they are able to associate
these feelings with a need to find a friend. This research was groundbreaking as
previously researchers believed that children were incapable o f experiencing the
phenomenon of loneliness. Sullivan (1953), for example, argued that children cannot
experience true loneliness until they reach early adolescence, as it is during this
period that a need for intimacy arises (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987). According to
Brennan (1982), adolescence is the time of life when loneliness first emerges as an
intense recognisable phenomenon (p. 269).
Researchers have typically measured loneliness in childhood using
sociometric instruments that have been usually administered in the school
environment (Larson, 1999), because it is easier to assess their peer world in this
context. The majority of research on childrens loneliness has focused on aspects of
their peer relationships and factors that lead to loneliness. A flaw in these early
studies was that they objectified social contact without considering childrens
subjective experiences of loneliness such as their social relationships (Qualter &
Munn, 2002).
One of the main aspects of peer adjustment relates to whether one is accepted
as opposed to rejected by peers (Asher & Gazelle, 1999; Asher & Paquette, 2003;
Boivin & Hymel, 1997; Pedersen, Vitaro, Barker, & Borge, 2007). Children who are
poorly accepted by their peers self-report experiencing higher levels of loneliness,
and feel more rejected over time than those who feel accepted (Boivin, Hymel, &
Bukowski, 1995). Experiencing rejection, indeed, increases the likelihood that one

will be the recipient of negative behaviour from others including peer victimisation
(Dodge & Frame, 1982). Being poorly treated, in turn, is more likely to contribute to
a childs negative representation of peers (Cassidy & Berlin, 1999).
Additionally, those who report having no friends are more likely to
experience loneliness than those with friends (Parker & Asher, 1993; Renshaw &
Brown, 1993). An important determinant of loneliness in children and adolescents is
whether their friendships are mutually valued, meaningful and lasting. Parker and
Seal (1996) found that children who frequently made new friends, but who did not
maintain these relationships, derived less benefit from these friendships in terms of
being protected from feelings of loneliness. Indeed, friendships can be differentiated
in terms of whether they are of a high or low quality; consequently, loneliness may
result when one experiences low quality friendships which may be characterised by
limited companionship; lack of emotional support, affection and loyalty; one or both
members feeling devalued and worthless in the relationship; or having limited scope
for recreation. (Asher & Gazelle, 1999; Hymel, Tarulli, Hayden Thomson, & TerrellDeutsch, 1999). However, the quality of friendship contributes to loneliness
independently of the contribution of peer acceptance, because research indicates that
poorly accepted children may still have friends, whilst well accepted children may
nonetheless lack friends (Parker, Saxon, Asher, & Kovacs, 1999). Ones potential for
loneliness has been demonstrated to be correlated with their relative level of peer
competence. Those with low peer competence have been shown to be at a greater
risk than those who are more competent. Another factor which has been shown to
have an impact is whether the individual who is low in peer competence is aware of
their deficit (Asher, Hymel, & Renshaw, 1984).
Peer victimisation also plays a crucial part as a determinant of loneliness. It
may range from verbal teasing which has the intention of being harmful through to
more extreme forms such as physical aggression and bullying in school (Asher &
Gazelle, 1999). Children who are accepted by peers and have friends are better
protected from victimisation (Boivin & Hymel, 1997; Hodges, Malone, & Perry,
1997). Those who lack peer acceptance and friendships are more susceptible to peer
victimisation, which has been hypothesized to destabilise childrens core feelings of
trust, security, and safety (Slee, 1993). In turn, feelings of mistrust or fearfulness
toward peers may cause victimised children to further isolate themselves and
increase their feelings of alienation (Burgess, Ladd, Kochenderfer, Lambert, &
9

Birch, 1999). Moreover, these victimised and lonely children have been found to be
more disconnected resulting in their being more anxious, insecure, and
unappreciative of school than non-victimised peers (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996;
Olweus, 1993).
Rejection among peers, a lack of close friends, and peer victimisation are
among the best predictors of ones potential for negative self-views (Boivin, Poulin,
& Vitaro, 1994; Hartup, 1996; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). From middle to
late childhood, loneliness appears to be an indicator of internalising emotional
problems and negative self-perceptions such as anxiety, shyness, depression, or low
self-esteem (Boivin et al., 1994; Crick & Ladd, 1993). Research has also provided
evidence that children who experience peer relations problems and have low peer
social status are more likely to have a language impairment, suggesting that
loneliness and deficits in communicative competence among children may be related
(Asher & Gazelle, 1999).
In the period between adolescence and adulthood, loneliness becomes
increasingly associated with social anxiety, depression, and other mental health
issues that may be externalised through problem behaviours such as dropping out of
school, alcoholism, drug usage, aggression, delinquency, obesity and sometimes
even suicide (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999; Pedersen et al., 2007). During
adolescence, the individuals social world undergoes an important restructuring, and
a sense of identity emerges (Harter, 1999; Perlman, 1988). In this stage, parents
become less important whilst peers become more influential, particularly opposite
sex peers (Larson, 1999). Social relationships, therefore, start to expand outside of
the individuals family unit (Giordano, 2003), so being included and accepted by
peers is of vital importance in the development of ones identity (Erikson, 1963;
Rokach & Neto, 2000). Early adolescence in particular is a time of experimentation
with ones role-taking abilities, self-consciousness, and exploration of ones social
value and self-presentation (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1999). As a result of these
changes, the early adolescents interpersonal self is typically disrupted as long as
he/she has not reached a state of stabilisation in his or her relationships (Goossens &
Marcoen, 1999). During this period, self-evaluative emotions including shame and
humiliation can be expected to increase, leading to feelings of loneliness (Parkhurst
& Hopmeyer, 1999). These teenage years do not just heighten the feeling of
alienation from peers; they can make individuals feel like they have failed at
10

successfully meeting the task of being socially connected (Larson, 1999). In


conclusion, loneliness in adolescence may result from struggles with both
interpersonal and intrapersonal issues, which reflect an interaction between the self
and the broader social domain. As adolescents struggle to reconcile the beliefs and
values of peers and parents with their own values and beliefs, they may experience
feelings of loneliness (Sippola & Bukowski, 1999).
Larson (1999) argues that as children enter adolescence, they actively choose
contexts that may lead to greater loneliness and as a result may spend increased
amounts of time alone at home. In the middle childhood years a tendency to engage
in solitary play is correlated with social isolation and depressive symptoms;
therefore, loneliness remains markedly associated with solitude (Hay, Payne, &
Chadwick, 2004). Older children, particularly early adolescents, are able to
differentiate between loneliness on the one hand and solitude (or aloneness) on the
other, with solitude being seen as a voluntary state (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999).
However, whether solitude is selected by an individual or not, it is important to
determine whether their aloneness is due to their disposition or due to peer exclusion
(Gazelle & Ladd, 2003). Larson (1997) also found that for adolescents, solitude can
have an adaptive and positive effect on ones emotional state, with those who spend
an intermediate amount of their time alone being better adjusted than those who
spend little or a great deal of time alone. Research suggests that this is because
adolescence is also a time characterised by a rising need for self-reflection (Goossens
& Marcoen, 1999).
Loneliness can be viewed as the inevitable consequence of forming
connections and attachments to people, and thus should not be viewed in itself as
pathological (Asher & Gazelle, 1999). Loneliness can be considered a chronic
condition when children and adolescents lack quality relationships over a long period
of time, whereas it is considered normal for them to experience situational or
transient loneliness from time to time, when they lose someone close to them or lack
a friend to play with (Asher & Paquette, 2003; Beck & Young, 1978).
One last consideration that is noted in the literature relates to parents
affective states and behaviour that affect their childrens experiencing of loneliness.
Rotenberg (1999) reviews five major theories and hypotheses regarding parental
antecedents of childrens and adolescents loneliness. One of these is the attachment
theory. Berlin, Cassidy, and Belsky (1995) argued that children who reported the
11

most profound sense of loneliness in early childhood also formed an insecureavoidant attachment during infancy. Andersson (1990) on the other hand asserted
that parental intrusion was more likely to foster narcissism in children which may in
turn enhance their propensity for being lonely. Intergenerational factors which relate
to childrens likelihood of experiencing loneliness have also been identified. Low
warmth and lack of positive involvement by parents with their children, as well as a
controlling interaction style shown by mothers and fathers, may cause children and
adolescents to experience greater degrees of loneliness (McDowell, Parke, & Wang,
2003). Additionally, it is purported that the more parents positively encourage and
promote childrens peer relationships, the less likely children are to experience
feelings of loneliness (Rotenberg, 1999).
Thus, as parents are a key agent of socialization especially in childhood
(Shaffer, 2002), it is important for them to teach their children to be able to resolve
problems occurring in peer interactions; otherwise their children may develop
feelings of loneliness (Hay et al., 2004). Furthermore, factors which may result in the
onset of loneliness in children and adolescents may be attributable to familial
conflict and stress in the home context, parental separation and/or divorce, or even
grief and loss associated with the death of a family member (Jones, 1992).
Social Anxiety
Loneliness can also be associated with social anxiety (Rao et al., 2007).
Social anxiety is also known as social phobia and is a disorder characterised by a
strong fear of humiliation, embarrassment, and a perception that one may be
negatively evaluated by others in social situations (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994). This often results in socially anxious individuals withdrawing
from what they perceive as frightening and hence anxiety-provoking situations. This
fear of social situations may then generalise to other forms of interpersonal contact
(Kashdan & Herbert, 2001). The reason for such behaviour is that the socially
anxious individual is typically afraid of failure if he/she feels exposed to unfamiliar
people or to possible scrutiny by others (Velting & Albano, 2001). Expectation of
negative evaluation has been negatively associated with low self-worth and to a lack
of peer acceptance (La Greca & Stone, 1993), as well as to more frequent negative
peer interactions and increased deficits in assertiveness and responsibility (Ginsburg,
La Greca, & Silverman, 1998).
12

Social anxiety can lead to significant distress and impairments in social,


academic, and family functioning (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001). Beidel, Turner, and
Morris (1999) reported that individuals in middle childhood through early
adolescence who were found to be socially anxious suffered substantial emotional
distress and impairment in many routine, daily situations. They had few if any
friends, were extremely lonely, and may have felt depressed as well. They also
experienced increased somatic complaints such as headaches and stomach aches.
Most notably, children and adolescents who are socially anxious exhibit
significantly poorer social skills than those who are socially well adjusted. Spence,
Donovan and Brechman-Toussaint (1999) found that socially phobic children not
only performed less competently on social skills than their non-socially anxious
peers, but also tended to anticipate negative outcomes from social-evaluative tasks
and showed a higher level of negative cognitions in relation to these. However, these
socially phobic children may have focused on and exaggerated those aspects of their
performance that would be most likely to elicit criticism or derision from others,
rather than focusing on their global performance or the more positive features. Rapee
and Heimberg (1997), indeed, argue that such negative expectancies and selfevaluations may not accurately reflect appraisals of reality, suggesting that the social
phobics view of himself or herself may be distorted.
Children and adolescents who have experienced elevated levels of peer
victimisation have been found to report higher levels of social phobia as well (Crick
& Bigbee, 1998; Crick & Grotpeter, 1996). Two types of peer victimisation have
been studied: overt victimisation, which involves, for example, hitting or threatening
to attack others (Storch & Masia-Warner, 2004); and relational victimisation, which
is more covert and involves one hurting others through manipulation or damage to
their interpersonal relationships (Crick & Grotpeter, 1996). Repeated exposure to
peer harassment may lead children and adolescents to avoid anxiety provoking social
interactions or to endure them with substantial distress (Storch, 2003). Negative
feedback from these situations may consequently hamper victimised individuals
potential for exposure to constructive peer relationships, thus further impeding their
ability to develop more appropriate social skills and self-esteem (Storch & MasiaWarner, 2004). However, Storch (2003) describes how the causal nature of the
relationship between peer victimisation and social anxiety is unclear. Other models
argue for a bi-directional relationship, by positing for example that socially anxious
13

children and adolescents espouse signs of vulnerability that invite peer victimisation
(Crick & Bigbee, 1998).
The typical manifestations of social anxiety differ as a function of age.
Indicators such as crying and tantrums may be examples of this disorder during
childhood (Spence, Donovan, & Brechman-Toussaint, 2000). Children can also
present with less obvious symptoms such as freezing (Albano, 1995), inflexible and
rigid temperamental styles such as obsessive-compulsive disorders (Beidel, 1991),
somatic complaints (Faust & Forehand, 1994), and concerns of being looked at or
talked about by strangers (Abe & Suzuki, 1986).
Hofmann et al. (1999) found that adolescents who are socially anxious are
typically afraid of informal social interactions such as attending parties or after
school activities. Fear may also be invoked through public observation,
circumstances requiring assertiveness, and formal situations in which they have to
speak to an authority figure or perform in front of an audience. Initiating or joining
conversations, as well as writing or eating, may pose difficulties for these
adolescents (Storch, 2003; Velting & Albano, 2001). They are more prone than
children to externalise their problems through fighting, antisocial behaviour, and
substance abuse (Clark et al., 1995; Davidson, Hughes, George, & Blazer, 1993;
DeWit, MacDonald, & Offord, 1999). They are also at a higher risk for truancy and
academic failure (Wittchen, Stein, & Kessler, 1999). Beidel et al. (2007) found that
compared to non-socially phobic adolescents, those who are socially anxious
experienced higher levels of depression, loneliness and introversion, as well as
significant patterns of social avoidance and deficits in social skills. Further, they are
more likely to report suicidal ideations (Francis, Last, & Strauss, 1992) or excessive
self-focused attention (Albano, DiBartolo, Heimberg, & Barlow, 1995).
Velting and Albano (2001) reviewed several areas of research related to the
phenomenon of social phobia in children and adolescents. For example, familial
genetic predisposition and environmental influences including parenting style
cumulatively have a moderate but complex affect on the development of this
phenomenon (Spence et al., 2000; Velting & Albano, 2001). It has been found that
parents of children and adolescents who are socially anxious are also more likely to
meet criteria for an anxiety disorder themselves compared to parents of non-socially
anxious offspring (Last, Hersen, Kazdin, Francis, & Grubb, 1987). Velting and
Albano (2001) believe that parental anxiety is, at the very least, a significant
14

maintaining factor in childrens social phobia. It is assumed that this is due to their
anxious parents adopting an over-controlling, over-protective, and over-critical
approach towards their children which they justify through their negatively skewed
view of the world (Dadds, Barrett, Rapee, & Ryan, 1996; Messer & Beidel, 1994).
As a result, they are more likely to demoralize their children with regards to the
acquisition of social skills for solving problems, and encourage them instead to keep
the threatening aspects of life in mind, hence avoiding that which is perceived as
threatening (Spence et al., 2000). Conversely, it is highly probable that socially
anxious children or adolescents perceive their parents as contributing to their social
isolation and being overly restrictive of them. They are also more likely to believe
that their parents are ashamed of their shyness and poor performance (Caster,
Inderbitzen, & Hope, 1999; Messer & Beidel, 1994).
Spence et al. (2000) believe that social anxiety is not likely to be a temporary
condition; instead it is expected to be a long-term problem for those with the
disorder. Furthermore, socially anxious children and adolescents do not generally
exhibit behaviours that typically concern their parents enough for them to seek help
(Beidel et al., 1999). Socially anxious individuals become so fixated on what others
might think of them that they tend to make themselves invisible, not wanting to stand
out or be different in case someone might notice them (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001).
This can lead to their being neglected at school and further intensify their anxieties
(Kashdan & Herbert, 2001). Excessive social anxiety may interfere with their normal
process of peer socialisation and play a key role in their decreased social support and
impaired social functioning (Inderbitzen, Walters, & Bukowski, 1997). Above all,
social anxiety places children and adolescents at risk for long-term problems with
education, social relationships, and employment. It also inhibits their ability to
function independently as adults, as well as increasing the risk of suffering from
depression (Velting & Albano, 2001). Therefore, some form of intervention either
through psychopharmacology or psychotherapy is required to treat childhood and
adolescent social anxiety (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001). Furthermore, Spence et al.
(2000) provide parents with suggestions for being involved in cognitive-behaviour
therapy for childrens and adolescents social phobia, as clearly parents have been
shown to play a crucial role in the development and maintenance of this disorder.
Teaching parents to model, prompt, and positively reinforce newly acquired social

15

skills regularly in real life situations is likely to increase the generalisation of their
childrens behaviour changes across contexts.
In conclusion, the family and peer groups are important for the development
of childrens and adolescents identity and the pursuit of self-discovery and
independence (Kagan & Gall, 1998). Children and adolescents during these stages
have to learn how to cooperate with peers, assume and reconcile different
perspectives and satisfy rising needs for intimacy and belonging (Crosnoe, 2000).
Forming and maintaining strong interpersonal bonds with friends is of vital
importance for their cognitive, emotional, social development and health (Newcomb
& Bagwell, 1995). According to Hartup and Stevens (1997), individuals who have
friends are more likely to have increased confidence, be more altruistic, be less
aggressive, are more engaged and connected at school and in their orientation
towards work than those who do not report having friends. In addition, individuals
who have more supportive friends have been shown to report higher self-esteem and
be at a significantly reduced risk for depression than those whose friends are less
supportive (Beraman & Moody, 2004).
Nonetheless, peer relationships can be unsatisfactory and potentially
damaging for those children and adolescents who are vulnerable and at higher risk
for peer victimisation (Hay et al., 2004). Their lives can be plagued by loneliness
and/or social anxiety, which may result in their seeking excitement, intimacy, and
friendship from using the Internet (Leung, 2003).
Childrens and Adolescents Use of Internet Communication
The Internet has a profound influence on todays children and adolescents in
general, especially on how they respond to interactions in their social life. They use
this technology in many different ways and for various purposes, including
entertainment and information retrieval (Kraut et al., 1998; Mesch, 2001). Notably,
at present usage of the Internet for educational purposes (Wynne & Mai, 2002) pales
in comparison to its utilisation as a tool for interpersonal communication and
socialising (Kraut et al., 2002; Wolak et al., 2003). Valkenburg and Peter (2007b)
define online communication in terms of frequency, intensity and rate with which
children and adolescents interact socially via Instant Messaging or chat. Frequency
and duration are common quantitative measures of direct online experiences of

16

Internet use, including online communication (Yan, 2006). As social networks are
being co-constructed online, such environments are redefining the use of computers
for communication and networking purposes (Bryant et al., 2006; Greenfield & Yan,
2006). Tapscott (1998) suggested that children and adolescents can become more
actively involved when communicating via the Internet and can develop a new
language and a new set of values. He argued that all the elements of the front stage,
including physical appearance, manner of speaking, and usage of various props, on
the Internet must be therefore totally constructed by the participants (Brignall & Van
Valey, 2005).
Tapscott (1998) classifies those born between 1977 and 1997 as a new
generation called The Net-Generation. These Net-Geners are characterised as
consumers who are accepting of diversity, are curious, assertive, and self-reliant
(Leung, 2003). They on average spend more time on the Internet than earlier
generations (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005), because they utilise this means of
communication to a greater extent in their social lives (Madden & Rainie, 2003).
This generation is more comfortable with computers than their parents due to their
exposure to this technology having grown up in the Digital Age (Leung, 2003).
Children and adolescents have also adopted text-mediated communication by
mobile phone relatively quickly because it is more convenient, of low expense, and
faster than classical technologies (Bryant et al., 2006). Moreover, it can be accessed
at any time without the need for a computer allowing the user to be constantly
available for communication. By talking at non-traditional times, these technologies
become more within their financial reach (Lenhart et al., 2005), enabling a
synchronous as opposed to an asynchronous (Walther, 1996) form of communication
such as e-mail.
Instant Messaging allows users to be informed when friends are online and
thus to chat with them in real-time through text windows that appear on the screens
of the two parties involved (Gross et al., 2002). In this way children and adolescents
engage in unlimited real-time, private, dyadic chatting (Gross, 2004). Within the
conversational space provided in chat rooms several topics can be discussed in
parallel by groups of people that may partly overlap. This allows individuals to
contribute to several conversations at the same time, or undertake relatively short
conversations (Greenfield & Subrahmanyam, 2003; Herring, 1999). Through the use
of Multi-User Domains (MUDs), children and adolescents are able to play virtual
17

reality games where they can create scene and drama advances and become the
author of the story (Leung, 2003). Furthermore, they can be whoever they want to be
and they can redefine themselves by constructing a viable mask or a persona that is
close or completely different to their real selves. The use of online social networking
websites allows children or adolescents to present themselves to strangers, articulate
their social networks, and establish or maintain connections with people they already
know offline (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Thus, it appears that children and
adolescents socialise online in different ways according to the type of Internet
application chosen to meet their communication needs (Subrahmanyam et al., 2006).
Childrens and Adolescents Online Social Life
Studies of online interactions are divided on their conclusions as to whether
these experiences lead to deeper or shallower social relationships (Mesch & Talmud,
2006). The quality of personal relationships is assessed in terms of the perceived
closeness, level of intimacy and trust experienced (Mesch & Talmud, 2006).
Stronger ties are characterised by higher intimacy, self-disclosure, activities that are
mutually liked, sharing of emotions, and long-term interactions. Conversely, those
that are classified as weaker are more likely to be with individuals who are regarded
as acquaintances rather than as friends. These relationships tend to be less supportive
and are characterised by more trivial conversations between participants (Marsden &
Campbell, 1984).
In early conceptualizations of online relationships, researchers have
identified that electronic media were relatively weak in supporting social ties or
emotional exchanges between participants. These technologies were not argued to
convey complex information or a high sense of social presence to others (Mesch &
Talmud, 2006). Lower social presence leads to more shallow and impersonal
computer-mediated communication as participants must rely only on typed words
and symbols to convey messages to others and back (Moody, 2001; Parks & Floyd,
1996; Whitty & Gavin, 2001). This results in less attention and effort being paid to
the speaker (Parks & Floyd, 1996).
The more time children and adolescents spend utilising socially interactive
technologies, the more likely they are to form social relationships; however, it is
important to note that these interactions may not translate to social support being

18

available offline (Bryant et al., 2006; Krackhardt, 1992; Wellman, 1996). According
to traditional relationship theories, physical proximity and information about
physical appearance were necessary precursors for social relationships to develop
(Di Gennaro & Dutton, 2007). Hence, the anonymity and the reduced social cues
(Mazalin & Moore, 2004) rather than the important nuances of face-to-face
interactions (e.g., verbal and non-verbal communication skills, body language)
would make computer-mediated communication more suited for supporting weak
ties with unknown people, that is, superficial relationships with easily broken bonds,
infrequent contact, and communication in a narrow focus (Kraut et al., 1998; Sproull
& Kiesler, 1986; Turkle, 1995; Wallace, 1999).
Authors such as Putnam (2000) and Morahan-Martin and Schumacher (2003)
have expressed concern that the ease of online communication might encourage
people to spend more time by themselves, forming superficial drive by
relationships with strangers at the expense of deeper face-to-face conversations with
friends and family (Brenner, 1997; Cummings, Butler, & Kraut, 2002). Thus, the
Internet may substitute weak ties for strong ones (Granovetter, 1973) and deprive
users of a sense of belonging and connection with real world contacts (MorahanMartin & Schumacher, 2003). As a consequence, it may lead users to qualitatively
poor participation in their social lives (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984; Kraut et
al., 1998) and, at worst, to addiction (Grohol, 1999; Young, 1999), which is
ultimately detrimental to personal well-being of individuals (Wolfradt & Doll,
2001).
Many of the early computer-mediated communication studies argue that the
lack of cues and the lower social presence in cyberspace also can expose children
and adolescents to dangers such as online predators, accessibility of inappropriate
material (Bremer & Rauch, 1998), flaming, cyber-bullying (Ybarra & Mitchell,
2004), sexual exploration and paedophile/pornographic contact (Livingstone &
Helsper, 2007b; Subrahmanyam et al., 2006). Due to the anonymity of CMC, an
individuals self-perception is reduced and deindividuation is encouraged, which
may lead to people taking impulsive anti-normative behaviour (Ando & Sakamoto,
2008). According to the shipboard syndrome (Curtis, 1997), individuals can
deceive these children and adolescents online by lying about their gender, age, race
or weight and creating a new character which is different from the one expressed in

19

face-to-face interactions (Griffiths, 1999; Harman, Hansen, Cochran, & Lindsey,


2005).
The filter-out-cues theory, however, challenged these claims and argued
that online communication has a positive utility. Peter, Valkenburg, and Schouten
(2007) argue that reduced visual and auditory cues, as well as the anonymity and
ease of finding others with the same interests, can allow individuals to form strong
ties more easily when their true selves are revealed and shared openly. These
features lower the risks associated with disclosing intimate information in
interpersonal exchanges, whereas such disclosures in a face-to-face community may
be embarrassing or be too risky due to the possibility that one may be ridiculed or
rejected (McKenna et al., 2002). Cyber-relationships therefore sometimes develop
into sound relationships, such as best friends or boyfriends/girlfriends (McKenna &
Bargh, 2000; Parks & Floyd, 1996). Also, some have noted that it is easier to find
friends of the opposite sex on the Internet rather than in real life (Parks & Roberts,
1998). On the Internet, one can share their inner beliefs and emotional reactions with
much less fear of disapproval and rejection (Mesch & Talmud, 2007), allowing for
the formation of positive impressions and hence turning impersonal online
relationships into hyperpersonal online relationships (Walther, 1996).
McCown, Fischer, Page and Homant (2001) found that those who use the
Web to meet others demonstrated strong skills in terms of communication, being
empathetic to others and honest. Sakamoto et al. (2002) point out that cyberrelationships can improve ones skills, which may generalise to those necessary to
maintain face-to-face interpersonal relationships. Other writers believe that online
interactions can liberate users from the traditional constraints of time and place,
resulting in more frequent and intimate social relationships (Mazalin & Moore,
2004). This may be due to the level of control that one can exert over their Internet
communication with others (McKenna & Bargh, 2000) and over self-presentation
(Walther, 1996). Online interactions can also make decision-making procedures
more efficient (Walther, 1996) because a larger amount of time is available to plan
and reflect (Peter & Valkenburg, 2006). Additionally, online interactions may offer a
safe environment for identity-experiments and practice of early social interactions
without expecting much reciprocally from others (Bremer & Rauch, 1998; Katz &
Rice, 2002; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). Moreover, online interactions can reinforce
ones views and beliefs, bolster self-esteem, provide status and allow individuals to
20

feel respected making one feel a greater sense of peer acceptance (Joinson, 1999;
Whittle, 1997).
In summary, research is divided on whether the involvement of children and
adolescents with the Internet and online relationships has enhanced or lessened their
offline social involvement and well-being (Di Gennaro & Dutton, 2007; Pelling,
2004). The Internet has become an integral part of their social life, since it can be a
space that makes interactions with distant associates and strangers possible (Wolak
et al., 2003). However, it is increasingly argued that social relationships mediated by
the Internet reflect, or are continuous with, offline relationships (Spears, Postmes,
Wolbert, Lea, & Rogers, 2000; Walther, 1996; Wellman, Quan Haase, Witte, &
Hampton, 2001). Children and adolescents use this socially interactive technology to
enhance communication mainly among family and friends who are also part of their
daily offline lives, to make plans with one another, and to maintain social contact
outside of their daily face-to-face conversations (Bryant et al., 2006; Gross, 2004).
Recent research has demonstrated that offline and online social networks overlap and
cannot be strictly separated among children and adolescents (Bryant et al., 2006;
Lenhart et al., 2005; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b). Furthermore, Bonebrake (2002)
argues that there is no drastic difference between offline and online relationships in
terms of their qualities. However, literature comparing these qualities and looking at
childrens and adolescents online interactions within the context of their offline
lives is still scant, especially in relation to those who are lonely and/or socially
anxious (Maczewski, 2002; Mesch & Talmud, 2006).
Lonely and Socially Anxious Children and Adolescents Communicate Online
Due to the difficulties faced in their offline lives, lonely and/or socially
anxious children and adolescents are more likely to be attracted to the Internet
because in this environment they may be able to expand their social networks more
easily than they might be able or willing to do in their real offline lives (MorahanMartin & Schumacher, 2003). The reduced audiovisual cues and anonymity provided
by the Internet may help them to overcome the inhibitions that they may typically
experience in real life social situations (McKenna et al., 2002). Due to the altered
patterns of this technology they may be able to compensate for their impaired social
skills, be motivated to self-disclose more frequently and more effectively online than

21

they usually would in face-to-face interactions, and as a result form online


friendships (McKenna & Bargh, 1999; 2000; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Peter et al.,
2005). They may spend higher amounts of time on the Internet because they feel
more comfortable communicating in this context in comparison to offline situations
(Thayer & Ray, 2006).
Alternatively, they may become friends with strangers they meet online, but
eventually may be encouraged to engage in risky offline meetings with unknown
people (Larsson, 2004; Liau et al., 2005). Because of their psychological
vulnerability they may be particularly exposed to other online risks. Further, they
may use online communication to isolate themselves more or to fill voids left due to
their lack of offline relationships (Scealy, Phillips, & Stevenson, 2002). Finally, they
may spend so much time on the Internet that they become addicted to this technology
(Young, 1999).
Research Questions
Research in the past decade has focused on examining how people in general
have used computer-mediated communication for social purposes, without
investigating whether loneliness and social anxiety have an impact on the usage of
CMC (Pornsakulvanich, 2005). Moreover, studies that have focused on the
relationship between Internet use and well-being have provided inconsistent and
conflicting findings.
One area that continues to be contentious regards the question of whether
loneliness and/or social anxiety are related to the amount (frequency and duration) of
online communication. Some studies have shown that excessive Internet use is
related to loneliness and contributes to increased depression impacting negatively on
social support and interactions (Kraut et al., 1998; Nie & Erbring, 2000). Other
studies have found no correlation between time spent online and well-being
(Campbell, Cumming, & Hughes, 2006; Gross et al., 2002).
Another debatable area is the extent of age and gender differences in relation
to usage of online communication. In the sample of children and adolescents (N =
1,511) mentioned before, Livingstone and Helsper (2007a) revealed a digital
divide by age in terms of access to the Web and quality of use of the Internet.
Previously boys have been shown to use the Internet more than girls as they played

22

more videogames. The variety of Internet applications including online


communication however has widely increased in the last ten years and has been
breaking down the gender gap (Gross, 2004).
Therefore, this study sought to explore how children and adolescents with
self-reported loneliness and/or social anxiety used the Internet for social
communication as compared with participants who did not report significant
loneliness and/or social anxiety. On the basis of Valkenburg and Peters (2007b)
study, patterns of online communication such as amount, topics, partners, and
purposes were examined. Age and gender differences were also investigated. As
stated previously in Chapter 1, the research questions were:

1:

Are there age differences in childrens and adolescents use of online


communication?

2:

Are there gender differences in childrens and adolescents use of online


communication?

3:

Are there differences in patterns of online communication for lonely and/or


socially anxious children and adolescents?

In the next chapter, the methodology used for answering the research
questions will be explained.

23

Chapter III: Method


Research Design
Using a cross-sectional survey approach, data were collected on specific
demographic characteristics; patterns of online communication such as frequency,
duration, possible topics, types of partners, and purposes for communicating online;
and a self-assessment of loneliness and social anxiety (see Appendix A). This nonexperimental study focused on synchronous ways of communicating online
including Instant Messaging applications, social networking websites, chat programs
and computer games that combine elements of role-playing and social chat rooms
(MUDs: Multi-User Dungeons). Usage of an asynchronous method of online
communication such as e-mail was not investigated.
Participants
Data were gathered from a convenience sample of 626 students ranging in
age from 10- to 16-years-old (M = 12.85, SD = 1.92). Participants were 50.5% males
(n = 316) and 49.5% females (n = 310).
The sample size was similar to the one used by Valkenburg and Peter
(2007b), who surveyed 665 children and adolescents in the same age range (M =
13.31, SD = 1.50), 51% boys and 49% girls. However, in Valkenburg and Peters
(2007b) study the children (10- to 12-year olds) accounted for only 19% of the
sample, whereas they comprised 45.7% of the current study, thus providing a more
even distribution across the age range. See Table 1 for demographic characteristics
of participants.

24

Table 1
Demographic Characteristics of Participants
Male
GENDER

Female

TOTAL

(N = 316)

(N = 310)

(N = 626)

10

44

7.0

41

6.5

85

13.6

11

50

8.0

59

9.4

109

17.4

12

50

8.0

42

6.7

92

14.7

13

49

7.8

41

6.5

90

14.4

14

45

7.2

50

8.0

95

15.2

15

42

6.7

47

7.5

89

14.2

16

36

5.8

30

4.8

66

10.5

17

2.7

27

4.3

44

7.0

70

11.2

59

9.4

129

20.6

58

9.3

45

7.2

103

16.5

32

5.1

22

3.5

54

8.6

37

5.9

46

7.4

83

13.3

10

41

6.6

57

9.1

98

15.7

11

41

6.6

40

6.4

81

13.0

12

20

3.2

13

2.1

33

5.3

Not shown

0.0

0.2

0.2

AGE

GRADE

25

Measures
Demographic Information. Questions inquiring about respondents age,
gender, school, grade as well as total number of siblings were constructed.
Additionally, information on parents current jobs was gathered in order to describe
the socio-economic status of the sample. These were then coded using the Australian
Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition (Australian Bureau of
Statistics, 1997). The ASCO is a widely used classification system which groups
occupations according to the skill level needed to perform occupational tasks: the
more skilled the job, the numerically smaller the classification code (BrechmanToussaint, 1997).
Using the method of condensing the ASCO categories proposed by Najman
and Bampton (1991), the sample was grouped into three broad occupational
categories and contrasted with data for the Australian population (Australian Bureau
of Statistics,

2008).

Percentages corresponded

for the second

grouping

(tradespersons, advanced and intermediate clerical, sales and service workers) but
the proportions of the sample falling into the first (managerial, professional, and
para-professional) and third (production and transport workers, elementary clerical,
sales and service workers, labourers) groupings were, respectively, somewhat higher
and lower than those for the general Australian population. Therefore, this was not a
representative group of the Australian population, being skewed in favour of high
socio-economic status (see Table 2).

26

Table 2
Parents Socio-Economic Status

Males
Aust.
Pop.
%

(1) Managers/Administrators

25

4.6

(2) Professionals

122

(3) Associate Professionals

163

ASCO major group

TOTAL 1

ST

Females
Aust.
Pop.
%

11.1

.6

5.5

22.4

17.2

149

29.9

23.4

29.9

12.9

100

20.0

12.3

56.9

41.2

50.5

41.2

135

24.8

20.7

15

3.0

3.0

10

1.8

.7

45

9.0

7.1

38

7.0

8.1

128

25.7

26.6

33.6

29.5

37.7

36.7

30

5.5

13.6

.4

2.6

1.7

5.7

40

8.0

13.2

13

2.4

9.9

17

3.4

6.4

9.6

29.2

11.8

22.2

Father
(N = 545)

GROUPING

Mother
(N = 499)

(4) Tradespersons/Related
Workers
(5) Advanced Clerical/Service
Workers
(6) Intermediate Clerical/Sales
& Service Workers
TOTAL 2ND GROUPING
(7) Intermediate
Production/Transport Workers
(8) Elementary Clerical/Sales &
Service Workers
(9) Labourers/Related Workers
TOTAL 3RD GROUPING

Note. 81 fathers and 127 mothers were coded as student, retired, home duties, unemployed, not stated, or not adequately
described.

Amount of Online Communication. This measure developed by Valkenburg


and Peter (2007b) was adapted to assess frequency (Question 1) and duration
(Questions 2-4) of online communication. Specifically, Question 1 asked the
participants the number of days that they had been online to chat in the past week;
Questions 2-4 asked about the approximate total time spent chatting on the last day
they were online, on an average week day, and on an average weekend.
Response categories for Question 1 ranged from None (0) to Every day (4),
whereas response categories for Questions 2-4 ranged from Less than 15 minutes (1)
to More than 4 hours (5). Responses to the four items were standardized and

27

produced a Cronbachs alpha of .84. The standardized scores were summed to create
a composite measure for frequency and duration; z scores for amount of online
communication ranged from -4.99 to +7.99, with higher scores equating to a higher
usage and lower scores a lower usage of online communication.

Topics of Online Communication. A 35-item list of topics of online


communication created by the researcher was used in this study. This list combined
items that were used in the Pew Internet & American Life Projects surveys and
other previous studies on Internet use such as the ones conducted by Gross et al.
(2002), Gross (2004), and Bryant et al. (2006). The remaining items were created
and added by the researcher. A semi closed-ended format was preferred in order to
allow respondents to expand on answers about topics that were not included in this
list.
For each item, participants were asked how often they chatted about that
specific topic; response categories ranged from Never (0) to Often (2). Cronbachs
alpha for this list was .90 (M = .78, SD = .66). Table 3 presents the list of topics of
online communication.

Table 3
List of Topics of Online Communication
TOPICS
Serious problems
Trivial problems
School work or homework
Things you would not say to someones face
Other kids
Plans for social events
Asking someone to go out with you
Asking someone to be your friend
Teachers
Sports
Videogames and online games

28

Table 3 (continued)
TOPICS
Gossip/rumours
Books
Shopping
Current events
Politics
Your health
Hobbies
Relationships
Things that bother you
Clothes and fashion
Music
TV programmes
Films and videos
Parents or family
Websites
Things related to the computer
How you feel
Breaking up with someone
Your future
Things in your past
Things you have done that day
Secret or confidential things
Jokes or funny stories
Holidays
OTHER

Partners of Online Communication. An 8-item list of partners of online


communication created by thesis supervisors was used in this study. For each item,
participants were asked how often they chatted with that specific partner; response

29

categories ranged from Never (0) to Often (2). Cronbachs alpha for this list was .60
(M = .76, SD = .62). Table 4 presents the list of partners of online communication.

Table 4
List of Partners of Online Communication
PARTNERS
Friends who are boys
Friends who are girls
Boys who are not friends
Girls who are not friends
Boys or girls you have never met
Family
Adults you have met
Adults you have never met

Purposes of Online Communication. The 18 purposes for communicating


online developed by Peter et al. (2006) were used in this study. The authors extracted
five interpretable factors from items included in previous uses-and-gratifications
studies (Leung, 2001; Rubin, Perse, & Barbato, 1988) and adjusted to online
communication. They then shaped five terms for motive scales that were retained;
these in the current study yielded the following coefficients of internal consistency:
entertainment (six items, Cronbachs alpha = .81; M = 1.18, SD = .69), maintaining
relationships (three items, Cronbachs alpha = .62; M = 1.42, SD = .67), social
compensation (three items, Cronbachs alpha = .72; M = .61, SD = .71), social
inclusion (four items, Cronbachs alpha = .70; M = .52, SD = .68), and meeting
people (two items, Cronbachs alpha = .76; M = .66, SD = .70).
For each purpose, participants were asked how often they chatted for that
specific purpose; response categories ranged from Never (0) to Often (2). Table 5
presents the list of purposes included in the five motive scales for online
communication.

30

Table 5
List of the Five Motive Scales Including Purposes of Online Communication

(1) Entertainment

PURPOSES
To have fun
Because I enjoy it
For pleasure
So I dont get bored
To have something to do
To relax

(2) Maintaining Relationships

PURPOSES
To speak with my friends from real life
To keep in contact with my friends
To talk with friends that live far away

(3) Social Compensation

PURPOSES
Because I can talk more comfortably
Because I dare to say more
To feel less shy

31

Table 5 (continued)

(4) Social Inclusion

PURPOSES
To belong to a group
To be a member of something
Because everybody does it
To belong to my chat friends

(5) Meeting People

PURPOSES
To get to know new people
To make new friends

Social Anxiety. The Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SAS-A; La Greca
& Lopez, 1998) contains 18 descriptive self-statements designed to measure
subjective feelings of social anxiety or social phobia, and 4 filler items reflecting
activity or social preferences. The wording of this scale stems from the Social
Anxiety Scale for Children-Revised (SASC-R; La Greca & Stone, 1993), which was
modified slightly by La Greca and Lopez (1998) to make it more developmentally
appropriate for adolescents; for example, items containing the term other kids were
changed to peers, others, or people, and references to playing with others
were reworded to doing things with others. Subjects rate items on a 5-point Likert
scale ranging from Not at all true (1) to True all the time (5). The spread of possible
total scores on this scale ranges from 18 to 90.
The 18 items are divided into three distinct subscales that have been
identified through factor analytic studies: Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE), which

32

consists of eight items tapping concerns, fears, and worries related to not being liked
by peers; Social Avoidance and Distress in New Situations (SAD-New), consisting
of six items related to discomfort and inhibition in interaction with unfamiliar peers
or in new social situations; General Social Avoidance and Distress (SAD-General),
which contains four items reflecting more general social anxiety or inhibition with
familiar peers (Brechman-Toussaint, 1997). Subscale scores are likewise obtained by
summing the ratings for each item in the three subscales (Storch, 2003).
The SAS-A has been found to be psychometrically sound, with good internal
consistencies (Cronbachs alphas) ranging from .76 to .91 for the three subscales (La
Greca & Lopez, 1998). In line with Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), the same items
selected from the SAD-New subscale were used in this study. In particular, since two
items had loaded less than .40 on the principal component that La Greca and Lopez
(1998) had helped to define, only the four remaining items of the original subscale
were retained. Responses were therefore summed to produce a single score, with
higher scores equating to a higher level and lower scores a lower level of social
anxiety (scores range: 4-20). The four items of this abbreviated scale resulted in a
Cronbachs alpha of .83 (M = 2.42, SD = 1.17).

Loneliness. The UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3) developed by Russell


(1996) is a 20-item self-report scale designed to measure subjective feelings of
loneliness or social isolation. This scale not only focuses on the quality of
interpersonal relationships, but also indicates the intensity of an individuals
perception of loneliness (Dittmann, 2003). Version 3 has become the most widely
used measure of loneliness as it employs more simplified wording and format than
the earlier versions (Iowa State University, 2004). Nine items are worded in a
positive, non-lonely direction and eleven items in a negative, lonely direction.
Subjects indicate how often they feel lonely on a 4-point Likert scale; ratings range
from Never (1) to Always (4). The scale yields a unidimensional global index of
loneliness with potential total scores ranging from 20 to 80.
The UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3) is valid and reliable. Russell (1996)
reported construct validity and adequate test-retest reliability when the scale was
used with several different samples. Also, coefficients alphas for the scale reflected a
highly internally consistent measure, ranging from .89 to .94.

33

In line with Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), the same five items with the
highest item-total correlations and a negative wording (Russell, 1996) were used in
this study. Responses were summed to produce a single score, with higher scores
equating to a higher level and lower scores a lower level of loneliness (scores range:
5-20). The five items of this abbreviated scale resulted in a Cronbachs alpha of .84
(M = 1.82, SD = .83).
Procedure
In compliance with ethical protocols, prior to the commencement of data
collection the study obtained ethical clearance from the University Human Research
Ethics Committee at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, after issues
relating not only to recruitment and consent, but also potential risks and benefits had
been addressed and approved. Data collection then started in early November 2007
and finished in late June 2008. Students were recruited within grades 5 through 12
from ten schools in the greater area of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, Australia.
To be eligible to take part in the study, students had to have access to a computer and
the Internet at home and use any application for communication purposes.
The children (10- to 12-year olds; n = 286; 45.7%) were recruited from six
primary schools and the adolescents (13- to 16-year olds; n = 340; 54.3%) from four
secondary schools. At the primary level, three schools were in the public sector and
within the same education district. Permission to conduct the study in the State-run
schools was granted by Education Queensland through the Executive Director of
Schools. At the secondary level all schools were independent; thus, no submission of
a formal application form was required before inviting school principals to
participate. Contacts were established either by e-mail or phone calls in order to
discuss the intent of the study, coordinate logistical concerns (e.g., number of
students being surveyed, during what periods, and where the testing would take
place), and specify what would be required of the students.
Besides a copy of the questionnaire, information describing the research
along with an informed consent form was attached and then sent to the various
schools. This document consisted of the studys statement of purpose, the general
content of the questionnaire, privacy and confidentiality of the data collected, the
voluntary basis of studys participation, the studys benefit-versus-risk analysis, and

34

a stated right to refuse to participate or withdraw at any time without fear of any
negative consequences. The students were asked to take the document home, read it
with their parents or guardians, and obtain their permission to participate in the
survey. Once permission was given, they were instructed to return the document
signed by both their parents and themselves to their classroom teachers.
A higher number of schools compared to the one in the study conducted by
Valkenburg and Peter (2007b) was approached in order to compensate for the
general low return rate, allowing that there was no type of incentive given to the
students to complete the survey. Furthermore, students were given additional time to
return their permission slips in order to obtain the proper sample size. All schools
were selected on the basis of their accessibility or willingness to assist the researcher
for the project. Towards the end of the data collection phase, two boys schools were
approached with the aim of increasing the number of male participants to balance
gender across the sample.
Next, participants filled out the questionnaire at a convenient time during
school hours. Completing the questionnaire took about 20 minutes. To ensure the
privacy of the students and the confidentiality of their data, no names were
requested. The researcher was present for guidance and assistance in administration
of the questionnaire in the primary schools, whereas at the secondary level teachers
were asked to present the information to students. Questionnaires were either mailed
or picked up by the researcher upon completion. Only completed survey data were
kept for analysis; students who indicated that they did not communicate online were
excluded from this study.
Data Analysis
Quantitative data gained from the questionnaires were coded and analysed
utilising the software SPSS for Windows Version 15.0. First, non-lonely and
lonely plus non-socially anxious and socially anxious groups were formed by
using a median split (Mdn = 9 for each of the two constructs: loneliness and social
anxiety). The lonely and the socially anxious groups included participants who had
scores above the median, whereas the non-lonely and the non-socially anxious
groups included participants who had scores at the median and below.

35

Second, a Crosstabs procedure was employed to evaluate the interrelationship


between the two constructs and therefore to count overlaps across the four groups.
As a result, 220 participants were grouped as non-socially anxious and non-lonely,
139 as socially anxious but not lonely, 107 as lonely but not socially anxious,
159 as lonely and socially anxious.
Descriptive statistics were employed to examine patterns of online
communication. Specifically, medians, modes, means, and standard deviations were
used to highlight trends regarding amount of time spent communicating on the
Internet. Frequency-based statistics were instead performed to obtain the most
relevant percentages from the lists of topics, partners, and purposes.
Mann-Whitney U tests were run to evaluate differences between the two
levels of age (children and adolescents) and gender (boys and girls) in amount of
online communication. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to
assess differences across the four levels of loneliness/social anxiety in amount of
online communication. Chi-square analysis was utilised to test for differences
between group responses on topics, partners, and purposes of online communication.
The groups corresponded to the levels of age, gender, and loneliness/social anxiety.
All the differences were tested with an alpha level of .01 to reduce the chances of
making an inflated Type I error due to the multiple comparisons. Finally, a multiple
linear regression analysis was performed to investigate age and gender differences
across the four levels of loneliness/social anxiety in terms of amount of online
communication.

36

Chapter IV: Results


Patterns of Online Communication: General Descriptives
Frequency and Duration of Online Communication
In response to Question 1 asking about frequency of online communication,
participants reported chatting online for a median of 3-4 days in the last week (Mo
= 1, M = 1.95, SD = 1.41). In response to questions 2-4 seeking information about
duration of online communication, on the last day participants were online the
median total chat time was between 15 minutes and one hour (Mo = 2, M = 2.22,
SD = 1.08), and over 95% of all respondents indicated that they communicated on
the Internet for up to 4 hours in total. On an average week day, total time chatting
online yielded a median value of between 15 minutes and one hour (Mo = 2, M =
2.42, SD = 1.23), and 91% of all respondents indicated that they communicated on
the Internet for up to 4 hours in total. On an average weekend, the median reported
chatting online time was instead 1-2 hours (Mo = 3, M = 2.67, SD = 1.27).
Topics of Online Communication
Table 6 presents complete details of frequency of online communication
about the topics included in the list. Topics rated most highly by respondents were
jokes or funny stories, things you have done that day, holidays, music, and
hobbies. At least 80% of all subjects indicated that they sometimes or often chatted
online about each of those topics. Topics least frequently rated by the sample were
politics, asking someone to go out with you, breaking up with someone,
books, and asking someone to be your friend. Approximately 70% of all
participants reported that they never communicated online about each of those
topics. Politics was an even less popular subject with 85% of respondents
reporting that they never talked about politics. Additional topics that emerged from
the open-ended question at the bottom of the list included animals or pets,
games, random stuff, sex or physical attraction, school time, food,
sportsmen or celebrities, boys and/or girls, friends, and chat lines.

37

Table 6
Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or Often
Communicated Online about each of the Listed Topics
Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

Serious problems

48.2

48.1

3.7

624

Trivial problems

35.1

45.2

19.6

621

28.0

53.5

18.4

624

49.4

38.6

12.0

624

Other kids

27.2

54.8

17.9

624

Plans for social events

20.7

41.6

37.7

623

72.3

22.4

5.3

624

68.3

26.4

5.3

621

Teachers

59.8

34.2

5.9

625

Sports

24.3

48.6

27.2

622

41.7

37.9

20.4

623

Gossip/rumours

33.3

44.6

22.1

625

Books

70.6

25.0

4.3

623

Shopping

44.3

39.6

16.1

623

Current events

24.5

51.0

24.5

625

Politics

85.6

11.4

3.0

624

Your health

60.5

34.9

4.6

625

Hobbies

19.2

55.6

25.2

626

Relationships

31.5

44.3

24.2

623

Things that bother you

35.5

48.2

16.3

625

Clothes and fashion

49.0

35.5

15.5

626

Music

17.0

48.8

34.2

625

TV programmes

23.4

56.3

20.4

624

TOPICS

School work or
homework
Things you would not
say to someones face

Asking someone to go
out with you
Asking someone to be
your friend

Videogames and online


games

38

Table 6 (continued)
Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

Films and videos

20.5

57.9

21.6

624

Parents or family

41.3

49.9

8.8

625

Websites

29.8

51.2

19.0

625

computer

39.4

44.3

16.3

625

How you feel

31.7

48.2

20.1

622

someone

71.2

24.0

4.8

624

Your future

41.0

50.6

8.5

625

Things in your past

34.6

55.3

10.1

624

15.6

49.0

35.5

623

48.6

38.2

13.1

625

Jokes or funny stories

12.3

44.2

43.5

625

Holidays

15.8

51.8

32.5

622

TOPICS

Things related to the

Breaking up with

Things you have done


that day
Secret or confidential
things

Partners of Online Communication


Over 90% of respondents indicated that they sometimes or often
communicated online with their friends, either boys or girls. The participants
expressed a preference for communicating more often with girls (68.2%) rather than
boys (56.5%). By contrast, almost 60% of the children and adolescents said that they
never chatted online with boys or girls who either were not friends or whom
they had never met. Over 70% reported that they sometimes or often conversed
with family members over the Internet but adults were not frequent partners of
online conversation. Over 65% reported that they never communicated with adults
they knew, and 92% said that they never communicated with adults they had never
met. See Table 7 for complete details of frequency of online communication with
different types of partners.

39

Table 7
Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or Often
Communicated Online with each of the Listed Partners
Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

7.5

35.9

56.5

626

8.3

23.5

68.2

626

59.7

35.2

5.1

625

56.2

37.6

6.2

625

56.9

33.8

9.3

624

29.0

44.4

26.6

624

65.3

PARTNERS

23.8

10.9

626

92.0

6.1

1.9

626

Friends who are


boys
Friends who are
girls
Boys who are
not friends
Girls who are
not friends
Boys or girls you
have never met
Family
Adults you have
met
Adults you have
never met

Purposes of Online Communication


The list of purposes included in five motive scales is accompanied by
complete details of frequency of online communication for such purposes (see Table
8). Keeping in contact with friends was the item with the highest frequency among
children and adolescents: 96% stated that they sometimes or often communicated
online for that purpose. However, an entertainment factor was seemingly
predominant, since to have fun and because I enjoy it were rated as the purpose
of online communication by 90% of respondents. By contrast, the social inclusion
factor was the least popular motive for participants to chat online: Almost 70%
reported that they never talked on the Internet either to belong to a group or to be

40

a member of something. Similar ratings were found for the because I dare to say
more item.

Table 8
Percentages of Respondents who Answered that they Never, Sometimes or Often
Communicated Online for each of the Listed Purposes Included in Five Motive
Scales

(1) Entertainment

Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

To have fun

7.4

46.7

45.9

623

Because I enjoy it

9.9

41.4

48.7

626

For pleasure

30.1

46.2

23.7

625

So I dont get bored

17.5

42.5

40.0

623

to do

15.0

44.5

40.5

625

To relax

31.5

44.1

24.4

626

PURPOSES

To have something

(2) Maintaining Relationships

PURPOSES

Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

13.8

35.3

50.9

623

4.0

26.0

70.0

626

18.7

38.4

42.9

625

To speak with my
friends from real life
To keep in contact
with my friends
To talk with friends
that live far away

41

Table 8 (continued)

(3) Social Compensation

Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

35.8

38.5

25.7

623

66.5

24.8

8.7

621

60.0

27.2

12.9

622

PURPOSES

Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

To belong to a group

68.9

22.4

8.7

624

65.1

25.9

9.0

625

49.7

35.8

14.5

626

51.1

33.3

15.6

615

Never

Sometimes

Often

No. of
respondents

51.8

36.9

11.2

623

44.1

39.1

16.8

626

PURPOSES
Because I can talk
more comfortably
Because I dare to say
more
To feel less shy

(4) Social Inclusion

To be a member of
something
Because everybody
does it
To belong to my
chat friends

(5) Meeting People

PURPOSES
To get to know new
people
To make new friends

42

Age Differences in Patterns of Online Communication


Age Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online Communication
A Mann-Whitney U test was conducted to evaluate whether there was a
significant age difference in childrens and adolescents amount of online
communication. The results of the test revealed a significant difference between
children and adolescents in their rankings, z(626) = -5.75, p < .001. Children (n =
286) had an average rank of 268.23, while adolescents (n = 340) had an average rank
of 351.58. Figure 1 shows the distribution of the scores for the two age groups; seven
outliers (z scores ranging from +7.06 to +7.99) have been removed from the
children axis.

amount of online communication_total

7.50

5.00

2.50

0.00

-2.50

-5.00

children

adolescents

Figure 1. Distribution of Scores for Amount of Online Communication

Age Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online Communication


Two x three contingency table analyses were then conducted to evaluate
statistical differences between the two variables: age with two levels (children and
adolescents) and frequency of online communication. This considered topics,

43

partners and purposes included in the lists at three levels for each pattern of Internet
communication: never, sometimes, and often.
Topics.
Table 9 presents the results of the chi-square tests. These indicate that
frequency of online communication about specific topics differed significantly for
the two groups in 25 out of 35 instances. The significant differences were the result
of adolescents reporting communicating online more frequently than did children
about all topics except for videogames and online games and asking someone to
be your friend. Here and in the subsequent sections, more frequently means that
the sums of frequencies for response categories sometimes and often were higher.
Children reported a higher sum of these frequencies than did adolescents in relation
to the two topics mentioned above.

Table 9
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Topics

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Serious problems

46.50

< .001**

.27

624

Trivial problems

33.21

< .001**

.23

621

42.15

< .001**

.26

624

8.52

.014

.12

624

Other kids

23.34

< .001**

.19

624

Plans for social events

48.71

< .001**

.28

623

.69

.707

.03

624

12.74

.002*

.14

621

Teachers

6.61

.037

.10

625

Sports

1.67

.433

.05

622

School work or
homework
Things you would not
say to someones face

Asking someone to go
out with you
Asking someone to be
your friend

44

Table 9 (continued)
2

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Videogames and online


games

35.30

< .001**

.24

623

.15

625

Gossip/rumours

13.72

.001

Books

4.36

.113

.08

623

Shopping

9.96

.007*

.13

623

Current events

11.39

.003*

.14

625

Politics

9.06

.011

.12

624

Your health

37.47

< .001**

.25

625

Hobbies

6.66

.036

.10

626

Relationships

64.32

< .001**

.32

623

Things that bother you

41.37

< .001**

.26

625

Clothes and fashion

19.60

< .001**

.18

626

Music

16.22

< .001**

.16

625

TV programmes

8.45

.015

.12

624

Films and videos

12.58

.002*

.14

624

Parents or family

29.60

< .001**

.22

625

Websites

13.34

.001*

.15

625

3.86

.145

.08

625

Things related to the


computer
How you feel

**

36.10

< .001

.24

622

someone

9.87

.007*

.13

624

Your future

14.85

.001*

.15

625

Things in your past

16.47

< .001**

.16

624

20.30

< .001**

.18

623

16.54

< .001**

.16

625

Jokes or funny stories

4.88

.087

.09

625

Holidays

10.39

.006*

.13

622

Breaking up with

Things you have done


that day
Secret or confidential
things

p < .01. **p < .001.

45

Partners.
As illustrated by the results in Table 10, frequency of online communication
with those partners differed significantly for children and adolescents in 6 out of 8
occasions. Most remarkably within the significant differences, adolescents reported
communicating online more frequently than did children with all partners except for
members of their family. Children reported communicating online more frequently
with their parents or siblings than did adolescents. However, it is interesting to
observe that the chi-square values were higher when the partners were females,
regardless of whether they were friends or not.

Table 10
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Partners
p

Cramrs
V

df

21.20

< .001**

.18

626

49.41

< .001**

.28

626

12.79

.002*

.14

625

15.88

< .001**

.16

625

21.54

< .001**

.19

624

10.70

.005*

.13

624

4.76

.092

.09

626

.71

.703

.03

626

PARTNERS
Friends who are
boys
Friends who are
girls
Boys who are not
friends
Girls who are not
friends
Boys or girls you
have never met
Family
Adults you have
met
Adults you have
never met
*

p < .01. **p < .001.

46

Purposes.
Frequency of online communication for particular purposes differed
significantly for children and adolescents in 7 out of 18 cases in point. Children
reported communicating online significantly more frequently than did adolescents
for a social inclusion motive, in order to be a member of something and to belong
to a group or their chat friends. By contrast, adolescents indicated that they
communicated online significantly more frequently than did children for an
entertainment motive (so that they did not get bored and they could relax), but
above all to get to know new people and also because they dared to say more
while being online. See Table 11 for the results of the chi-square tests.

Table 11
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Age in terms of Online
Communication Purposes Included in Five Motive Scales

(1) Entertainment

PURPOSES

Cramrs
V

df

To have fun

.30

.861

.02

623

Because I enjoy it

1.27

.531

.05

626

For pleasure

2.87

.238

.07

625

So I dont get bored

18.71

< .001**

.17

623

to do

5.80

.055

.10

625

To relax

10.17

.006*

.13

626

To have something

47

Table 11 (continued)
(2) Maintaining Relationships

Cramrs
V

df

7.04

.030

.11

623

2.36

.307

.06

626

4.08

.130

.08

625

PURPOSES

To speak with my
friends from real life
To keep in contact
with my friends
To talk with friends
that live far away

(3) Social Compensation

Cramrs
V

df

2.81

.246

.07

623

10.61

.005*

.13

621

5.80

.055

.10

622

Cramrs
V

df

17.13

< .001**

.17

624

23.72

< .001**

.20

625

4.99

.082

.09

626

15.74

< .001**

.16

615

PURPOSES
Because I can talk
more comfortably
Because I dare to say
more
To feel less shy

(4) Social Inclusion

To belong to a group

PURPOSES

To be a member of
something
Because everybody
does it
To belong to my
chat friends

48

Table 11 (continued)

(5) Meeting People

Cramrs
V

df

19.85

< .001**

.18

623

1.64

.440

.05

626

PURPOSES
To get to know new
people
To make new friends
*

p < .01. **p < .001.

Gender Differences in Patterns of Online Communication


Gender Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online Communication
A Mann-Whitney U test was conducted to evaluate whether there was a
significant gender difference in childrens and adolescents amount of online
communication. The results of the test revealed a significant difference between boys
and girls in their rankings, z(626) = -1.99, p = .047. Boys (n = 316) had an average
rank of 299.26, while girls (n = 310) had an average rank of 328.02. Figure 2 shows
the distribution of the scores for the two genders.

49

amount of online communication_total

7.50

5.00

2.50

0.00

-2.50

-5.00

boys

girls

Figure 2. Distribution of Scores for Amount of Online Communication

Gender Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online Communication


Two x three contingency table analyses were then conducted to evaluate
statistical differences between the two variables: gender with two levels (boys and
girls) and frequency of online communication. This considered topics, partners and
purposes included in the lists at three levels for each pattern of Internet
communication: never, sometimes, and often.
Topics.
As shown in Table 12, the results of the chi-square tests indicate that
frequency of online communication about specific topics differed significantly for
boys and girls in 20 out of 35 occurrences. Most notably within the significant
differences, girls reported communicating online more frequently than did boys
about all topics except videogames and online games and sports. For such
topics, boys reported a higher sum of frequencies for response categories sometimes
and often than did girls.

50

Table 12
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of Online
Communication Topics
2

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Serious problems

7.50

.024

.11

624

Trivial problems

13.67

.001*

.15

621

9.45

.009*

.12

624

7.88

.019

.11

624

Other kids

18.11

< .001**

.17

624

Plans for social events

27.33

< .001**

.21

623

5.27

.072

.09

624

.86

.650

.04

621

Teachers

5.98

.050

.10

625

Sports

27.19

< .001**

.21

622

74.80

< .001**

.35

623

Gossip/rumours

32.83

< .001**

.23

625

Books

2.58

.276

.06

623

Shopping

150.83

< .001**

.49

623

Current events

25.31

< .001**

.20

625

Politics

8.22

.016

.12

624

Your health

.14

.931

.02

625

Hobbies

5.76

.056

.10

626

Relationships

30.12

< .001**

.22

623

Things that bother you

42.27

< .001**

.26

625

Clothes and fashion

145.43

< .001**

.48

626

**

School work or
homework
Things you would not
say to someones face

Asking someone to go
out with you
Asking someone to be
your friend

Videogames and online


games

Music

18.33

< .001

.17

625

TV programmes

3.50

.174

.08

624

51

Table 12 (continued)
2

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Films and videos

.01

.997

.00

624

Parents or family

33.32

< .001**

.23

625

Websites

2.85

.240

.07

625

5.90

.052

.10

625

Things related to the


computer
How you feel

**

59.31

< .001

.31

622

someone

6.12

.047

.10

624

Your future

9.99

.007*

.13

625

Things in your past

11.41

.003*

.14

624

48.50

< .001**

.28

623

19.89

< .001**

.18

625

.12

.943

.01

625

16.68

< .001**

.16

622

Breaking up with

Things you have done


that day
Secret or confidential
things
Jokes or funny stories
Holidays
*

p < .01. **p < .001.

Partners.
Frequency of online communication with those partners differed significantly
for the two groups in 5 out of 8 instances. Boys reported communicating online with
same-sex friends and with people whom they had never met (boys, girls, or
adults) significantly more frequently than did girls. Girls also identified online
communication with same-sex friends as significantly more frequent compared to
boys, but in this case the difference was greater. Moreover, females indicated that
they used the Internet to communicate with family members significantly more
frequently than did boys. Table 13 shows the results of the chi-square tests.

52

Table 13
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of Online
Communication Partners
p

Cramrs
V

df

10.89

.004*

.13

626

90.77

< .001**

.38

626

.23

.889

.02

625

2.65

.265

.07

625

18.49

< .001**

.17

624

16.29

< .001**

.16

624

1.70

.428

.05

626

10.13

.006*

.13

626

PARTNERS
Friends who are
boys
Friends who are
girls
Boys who are
not friends
Girls who are
not friends
Boys or girls you
have never met
Family
Adults you have
met
Adults you have
never met
*

p < .01. **p < .001.

Purposes.
Table 14 presents the results of the chi-square tests. These reveal that
frequency of online communication for particular purposes differed significantly for
males and females in 4 out of 18 examples. The significant differences suggest that
boys reported communicating online more frequently than did girls only in order to
belong to a group. Conversely, girls indicated that they communicated online more
frequently than did boys for a maintaining relationships motive, in order to keep in
contact with their friends, even if they lived far away. Girls also reported that
they communicated online because they enjoyed it significantly more frequently
than did boys.

53

Table 14
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Gender in terms of Online
Communication Purposes Included in Five Motive Scales

(1) Entertainment

Cramrs
V

df

.85

.655

.04

623

Because I enjoy it

16.63

< .001**

.16

626

For pleasure

2.76

.252

.07

625

So I dont get bored

6.94

.031

.11

623

to do

5.86

.053

.10

625

To relax

1.04

.595

.04

626

To have fun

PURPOSES

To have something

(2) Maintaining Relationships

Cramrs
V

df

2.90

.235

.07

623

23.54

< .001**

.19

626

11.21

.004*

.13

625

PURPOSES
To speak with my
friends from real life
To keep in contact
with my friends
To talk with friends
that live far away

54

Table 14 (continued)

(3) Social Compensation

Cramrs
V

df

4.83

.089

.09

623

.55

.759

.03

621

1.18

.556

.04

622

Cramrs
V

df

10.64

.005*

.13

624

4.59

.101

.09

625

1.28

.528

.05

626

1.66

.437

.05

615

Cramrs
V

df

1.46

.482

.05

623

.71

.702

.03

626

PURPOSES
Because I can talk
more comfortably
Because I dare to say
more
To feel less shy

(4) Social Inclusion

To belong to a group

PURPOSES

To be a member of
something
Because everybody
does it
To belong to my
chat friends

(5) Meeting People

PURPOSES
To get to know new
people
To make new friends
*

p < .01. **p < .001.

55

Relationships among Loneliness/Social Anxiety and Online Communication


Group Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online Communication
A one-way analysis of variance was conducted to evaluate group differences
in amount of online communication for children and adolescents who were more or
less lonely and/or socially anxious. The independent variable, the loneliness/social
anxiety factor, included four levels corresponding to four groups: those who reported
being neither socially anxious nor lonely (group 1; n = 220), those who were socially
anxious but not lonely (group 2; n = 139), those who were lonely but not socially
anxious (group 3; n = 107), and those who were both lonely and socially anxious
(group 4; n = 159). The dependent variable was amount of online communication.
2

The ANOVA was significant, F(3, 621) = 4.46, p = .004,

= .02. The strength of

relationship between the two psychological constructs and total frequency and
2

duration of online communication, as assessed by partial

, was small, with the

loneliness/social anxiety factor accounting for about 2% of the variance of the


dependent variable.
Follow-up tests were conducted to evaluate pairwise differences among the
means. Because the standard deviations among the four groups ranged from 3.09 to
3.38, it was assumed that the variances were homogeneous. Thus, post hoc
comparisons were conducted using Tukey HSD, a test that assumes equal variances
among the four groups. There was a significant difference in the means between
group 2 and group 3. There was also a significant difference between group 2 and
group 4. Group 2 showed a decrease in amount of online communication in
comparison to the two groups. In other words, those children and adolescents who
reported being lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely and socially anxious
used a higher amount of online communication than those who reported being
socially anxious but not lonely. There were no significant differences in the means
between group 1 and the other three groups. The 95% confidence intervals for the
pairwise differences, as well as the means and standard deviations for the four levels
of loneliness/social anxiety, are reported in Table 15.

56

Table 15
95% Confidence Intervals of Pairwise Differences in Mean Amount of Online
Communication
LONELINESS
/ SOCIAL
ANXIETY

SD

Non-socially
anxious and
non-lonely

Lonely but
not socially
anxious

Non-socially
anxious and
non-lonely 1

.00

3.36

Lonely but not


socially
anxious 3

.35

3.18

-.64 to 1.35

Socially
anxious but
not lonely 2

-.83

3.09

-1.74 to .09

-2.27 to -.09*

Lonely and
socially
anxious 4

.47

3.38

-.41 to 1.35

-.93 to 1.18

Total

.00

Socially
anxious but
not lonely

3.31

.32 to 2.28*

Note. An asterisk indicates that the 95% confidence interval does not contain zero, and therefore the difference in means is
significant at the .05 significance using Tukey HSD procedure.

Group Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online Communication


Four x three contingency table analyses were then conducted to evaluate
statistical differences between the two variables: loneliness/social anxiety with the
aforementioned four levels and frequency of online communication. This considered
topics, partners and purposes included in the lists at three levels for each pattern of
Internet communication: never, sometimes, and often. Furthermore, follow-up
pairwise comparisons were conducted within the significant results to explore the
differences among the four groups. The Holms sequential Bonferroni method was
used to control for Type I error at the .01 level across all six comparisons.

57

Topics.
As shown in Table 16, the results of the chi-square tests indicate that
frequency of online communication about specific topics differed significantly for
the four groups in 12 out of 35 examples. Only two follow-up pairwise differences
were not significant across any online communication topic whose p value is
significant in Table 16. These were between group 1 vs. group 2, and between group
3 vs. group 4. By contrast, however, the four other significant follow-up pairwise
differences most importantly show in summary that the lonely but not socially
anxious plus the lonely and socially anxious always reported communicating online
about such topics more frequently than did group 1 and group 2.

Table 16
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social Anxiety in
terms of Online Communication Topics
p

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Serious problems

37.83

< .001**

.17

623

Trivial problems

14.05

.029

.11

620

10.20

.117

.09

623

20.55

.002*

.13

623

Other kids

24.96

< .001**

.14

623

Plans for social events

8.27

.219

.08

622

13.47

.036

.10

623

17.62

.007*

.12

620

Teachers

7.84

.250

.08

624

Sports

5.93

.431

.07

621

.63

.996

.02

622

School work or
homework
Things you would not
say to someones face

Asking someone to go
out with you
Asking someone to be
your friend

Videogames and online


games

58

Table 16 (continued)
2

TOPICS

Cramrs
V

df

Gossip/rumours

20.00

.003*

.13

624

Books

6.44

.376

.07

622

Shopping

13.38

.037

.10

622

Current events

5.51

.481

.07

624

Politics

11.81

.066

.10

623

Your health

21.57

.001

.13

624

Hobbies

10.70

.098

.09

625

Relationships

16.18

.013

.11

622

Things that bother you

30.15

< .001**

.16

624

Clothes and fashion

6.98

.323

.08

625

Music

6.49

.370

.07

624

TV programmes

5.49

.483

.07

623

Films and videos

6.62

.357

.07

623

Parents or family

22.66

.001*

.14

624

Websites

14.15

.028

.11

624

computer

12.45

.053

.10

624

How you feel

40.44

< .001**

.18

621

someone

10.15

.119

.09

623

Your future

8.29

.218

.08

624

Things in your past

19.73

.003*

.13

623

18.78

.005*

.12

622

30.08

< .001**

.16

624

Jokes or funny stories

7.60

.269

.08

624

Holidays

9.91

.128

.09

621

Things related to the

Breaking up with

Things you have done


that day
Secret or confidential
things

p < .01. **p < .001.

59

Partners.
The results show that frequency of online communication with those partners
differed significantly for the four groups in 1 out of 8 cases. Only two follow-up
pairwise differences were found significant between group 2 vs. group 3, and
between group 2 vs. group 4. In particular, group 2 reported communicating online
less frequently in both comparisons. That is, the lonely but not socially anxious as
well as the lonely and socially anxious reported communicating online with adults
they had met more frequently than did those who were socially anxious but not
lonely. Finally, no significant follow-up pairwise difference was found for group 1.
See Table 17 for the results of the chi-square tests.

Table 17
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social Anxiety in
terms of Online Communication Partners
p

Cramrs
V

df

11.81

.066

.10

625

4.52

.607

.06

625

5.28

.509

.07

624

6.19

.403

.07

624

7.15

.308

.08

623

4.14

.657

.06

623

20.99

.002*

.13

625

5.37

.497

.07

625

PARTNERS
Friends who are
boys
Friends who are
girls
Boys who are not
friends
Girls who are not
friends
Boys or girls you
have never met
Family
Adults you have
met
Adults you have
never met
*

p < .01.

60

Purposes.
Frequency of online communication for particular purposes differed
significantly for the four groups in 8 out of 18 instances. On the basis of the chisquare tests, the social compensation and the meeting people motives were the most
relevant in accounting for the significant results. Only two follow-up pairwise
differences were not significant across any online communication purpose whose p
value is significant in Table 18. These were between group 1 vs. group 2, and
between group 3 vs. group 4. By contrast, however, the four other significant followup pairwise differences most importantly indicate in summary that those children
and adolescents who reported being lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely
and socially anxious always indicated that they communicated online for such
purposes more frequently than did group 1 and group 2. Moreover, the follow-up
pairwise comparison between group 4 vs. group 2 was found significant across all
the online communication purposes with significant p values in Table 18.

Table 18
Chi-Square Tests for Statistical Differences across Loneliness/Social Anxiety in
terms of Online Communication Purposes Included in Five Motive Scales

(1) Entertainment

PURPOSES

Cramrs
V

df

To have fun

6.36

.384

.07

622

Because I enjoy it

7.79

.254

.08

625

For pleasure

8.68

.193

.08

624

So I dont get bored

10.49

.106

.09

622

to do

6.02

.421

.07

624

To relax

19.61

.003*

.13

625

To have something

61

Table 18 (continued)
(2) Maintaining Relationships

Cramrs
V

df

6.30

.390

.07

622

8.07

.233

.08

625

7.08

.314

.08

624

PURPOSES

To speak with my
friends from real life
To keep in contact
with my friends
To talk with friends
that live far away

(3) Social Compensation

Cramrs
V

df

33.92

< .001**

.17

622

24.33

< .001**

.14

620

65.37

< .001**

.23

621

Cramrs
V

df

29.05

< .001**

.15

623

9.97

.126

.09

624

8.87

.181

.08

625

21.70

.001*

.13

614

PURPOSES
Because I can talk
more comfortably
Because I dare to say
more
To feel less shy

(4) Social Inclusion

To belong to a group

PURPOSES

To be a member of
something
Because everybody
does it
To belong to my
chat friends

62

Table 18 (continued)

(5) Meeting People

PURPOSES

Cramrs
V

df

.15

622

.13

625

To get to know new


people
To make new friends

26.53
21.72

< .001**
.001

p < .01. **p < .001.

Age and Gender Differences in Amount (Frequency and Duration) of Online


Communication within the Lonely But Not Socially Anxious plus the Lonely And
Socially Anxious Groups
A multiple linear regression analysis was performed between the continuous
dependent variable (amount of online communication) and the predictor variables
age and gender for group 3 and group 4 within the loneliness/social anxiety variable.
Age and gender were dichotomous nominal variables representing respectively
children and adolescents, boys and girls. Multiple linear regression results in a
general solution applicable to a wider range of prediction problems, and when the
predictor or independent variables are nominal variables, it produces identical results
to the ANOVA model (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003).
The regression assumptions were tested using Q-Q normality plots of the
residuals, and scatter plots of the residuals against each of the independent variables
and the predicted values. No violations of normality, linearity and homoscedasticity
of residuals were detected. Multicollinearity statistics were also within normal limits.
In addition, box plots revealed no evidence of outliers.
In terms of the individual relationships between the independent variables
and amount of online communication, the regression analysis revealed that the age
factor was a significant predictor of amount of online communication (t = 3.17, p =
.002), while gender did not significantly predict the dependent variable (t = .87, p =
.387). Overall, the model predicted significantly amount of online communication,

63

F(2, 263) = 5.37, p = .005, with the adjusted R2 value for the model = .03. Table 19
displays the unstandardised regression coefficients (B), the incept value, and the
standardised regression coefficients ( ) for each variable.

Table 19
Summary of Multiple Linear Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Amount of
Online Communication (n = 266)
B

SE B

(Constant)

-.53

.39

Age

1.29

.41

.19*

Gender

.35

.40

.05

PREDICTORS

R2 = .04. Adjusted R2 = .03.


*
p < .05.

Age and Gender Differences in Topics, Partners, and Purposes of Online


Communication within the Lonely But Not Socially Anxious plus the Lonely And
Socially Anxious Groups
Four x three contingency table analyses were then conducted within group 3
and group 4, to evaluate differences related to age and gender (layers) in terms of
frequency of online communication about all the topics, with all the partners, and for
all the purposes included in the lists. During the analysis process some surprising
results were noted. As previously discussed, particular topics were not identified as
significant for group 3 and group 4. However, on further analysis in terms of age and
gender differences within these two groups, some topics were found to be
significant. Taking this into account, all the topics, partners and purposes included in
the lists were considered in the current analyses. Type I error was controlled at the
.01 level. The following sections, therefore, present the results of the chi-square tests
for lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and socially anxious children,
adolescents, boys, and girls.
Topics.
In relation to age differences, lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely
and socially anxious children reported communicating online significantly more

64

frequently about things that bothered them and things they had done that day.
Conversely, lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and socially anxious
adolescents reported communicating online significantly more frequently about
serious problems, parents or family, their health, and gossip/rumours.
Lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely and socially anxious children and
adolescents indicated that they communicated online significantly more frequently
about how they felt.
In relation to gender differences, lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely
and socially anxious boys reported communicating online significantly more
frequently about secret or confidential things, things that bothered them,
music, jokes or funny stories, films and videos, and things they had done that
day. They also significantly more frequently reported asking someone to go out
with them in their online communications. Four of these topics were not significant
in Table 16.
On the other hand, lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and socially
anxious girls reported communicating online significantly more frequently about
other kids and serious problems. Lonely but not socially anxious as well as
lonely and socially anxious males and females reported communicating online
significantly more frequently about how they felt.
Partners.
No significant age differences were found within group 3 and group 4 in
terms of frequency of online communication with the partners included in the list.
With regards to gender differences, lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and
socially anxious boys reported communicating online significantly more frequently
with adults they had met. By contrast, lonely but not socially anxious as well as
lonely and socially anxious girls identified online communication with either boys
or girls they had never met as significantly more frequent. However, boys or girls
you have never met was not a significant item in Table 17.
Purposes.
When discussing age differences, lonely but not socially anxious as well as
lonely

and

socially

anxious

children

and

adolescents

identified

online

communication for the purpose of feeling less shy significantly more frequently.
65

Adolescents in particular indicated that they communicated online significantly more


frequently also to dare to say more and talk more comfortably. In addition, to
belong to a group and to relax were two other significant purposes of online
communication for such adolescents.
When discussing gender differences, lonely but not socially anxious plus
lonely and socially anxious boys reported communicating online significantly more
frequently to belong to a group and their chat friends, but also because they
could talk more comfortably and feel less shy. The purpose of feeling less shy
concerned lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and socially anxious girls as
well, but in respect to the male counterpart such girls used online communication to
get to know new people.

In the next chapter, the main findings of the study will be discussed. Finally,
limitations and implications of the results for future research will be considered.

66

Chapter V: Discussion
Age Differences in Patterns of Online Communication
It was found in this study, as expected, that adolescents aged between 13- and
16-years-old spent more time using the Internet to communicate compared to
children aged between 10- and 12-years-old. Adolescents also communicated online
on a wider range of topics and with a broader range of partners than children. This
finding is consistent with previous studies of online communication that have
commonly reported that adolescents participate more than children in online
communication (Lenhart et al., 2005; Livingstone & Helsper, 2007a; 2007b; Mesch,
2005; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b).
This can be explained in many ways. First, it has been shown that adolescents
confide in their friends more often than children about their grievances and day-today issues, which become more diversified and broader because they generate
mutual interest (Mesch, 2005). However, an alternative reason could be that
adolescents are more likely to engage in online communication because they
perceive it as more controllable and deeper than face-to-face communication (Peter
& Valkenburg, 2006). They may also have greater access to the Internet than
children and realise that the Internet offers them more opportunities for discussing
different topics (Livingstone & Helsper, 2007a). Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, and Brodie
(1999) observed that, whereas children most often visited chat rooms devoted to
discussion of entertainment topics such as gaming for example, adolescents most
frequently chatted online about relationships and lifestyles.
The results of the present study demonstrate that adolescents reported
communicating online with different partners more frequently than did children.
Adolescents spent more time talking to either girls or boys who were friends first
encountered in offline contexts when they went online (e.g., school or
neighbourhood). This finding corroborates Livingstone and Bober (2005)s finding
that the older adolescents were, the more time they spent on the Internet
communicating with their existing personal network. The next most frequently
reported partners were boys or girls who adolescents had met online and had not met
face-to-face. Those boys or girls who adolescents did not classify as friends were in
this study the least frequently cited partners for talking to online. The findings
67

corroborate findings that adolescents also use the Internet to facilitate relationship
formation more than children, as they talk with strangers or peers with whom they do
not have a close connection (Peter et al., 2006; Valkenburg, Schouten, & Peter,
2005). This is further evidenced by participants in this age range expressing more
frequently than children that getting to know new people was one of their purposes
for communicating online. The results suggest that adolescents more than children
are motivated to communicate online to avoid boredom or to relax, which is similar
to Peter et al.s (2006) results. Thus, they may not necessarily intend to establish a
meaningful relationship when they chat online with strangers or peers who are not
their friends.
With age, teenagers expand their social circle and include more members of
the opposite sex (Maccoby, 1998). Brown, Feiring, and Furman (1999) also found
that teenagers reported spending more time in person with peers of the opposite sex.
The reason why adolescents in the current study communicated online with members
of the opposite sex more frequently than did children may be that the Internet
provides adolescents with a safer space for this social contact with existing friends,
non-friends, or new peers (Gross et al., 2002).
Adolescents also reported more complex purposes for using online
communication than did children in this study. Children reported that their sole
purpose for using online communication was influenced by a social inclusion
motive. Online they asked someone to be their friend more frequently than did
adolescents. However, for children, the purpose of making new friends online was
prompted by a need to include and be included by others into a group of chat friends.
During this stage of development in particular, peer acceptance and feeling a sense
of belonging clearly play an important role (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). They may
desire to be part of a virtual community in order to fit into the real world, but at the
same time they still need to feel connected with their family, which is evidenced by
more frequent online communication with family members by this age group in
comparison to the adolescent group.
Gender Differences in Patterns of Online Communication
It was found in this study that females communicated more frequently online
than males. This finding is in contrast to earlier research on childrens and

68

adolescents Internet usage, which showed that more boys than girls were active
users of the Internet (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, Kraut, & Gross, 2001). In the
current study, girls reported that they went online to communicate more frequently
about a wider range of topics than boys. Females may be more attracted than males
to the possibility of self-disclosure in the security of the Internet environment,
because traditionally females were encouraged to be less assertive in conversations
than were males (Costa, Terracciano, & McGrae, 2001). Since online
communication allows the less assertive to be heard (McKenna & Bargh, 2000), girls
may perceive it as a more reciprocal forum for communication (Peter & Valkenburg,
2006). Females also generally show higher levels of breadth (content areas) and
depth (intimacy level) in their face-to-face communication than do males (McNelles
& Connolly, 1999). The same levels of breadth and depth were shown to be higher
for females also in the present study. The literature on gender differences in
friendships reports that for girls, friendship is characterised by talking and intimacy
on different topics (Mesch, 2005). The results of the present study are also in line
with Lenhart and Madden (2007), who showed that girls main purposes for
communicating online were to reinforce pre-existing friendships and to use online
communication as a bridge to friends they seldom see.
Another reason that girls use the Internet for communication more than boys
may be that girls typically experience lower self-esteem than boys do during
childhood and adolescence (Azmitia, 2002; Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Harter,
1999). Mesch and Talmud (2007) argued that females with lower self-esteem may
feel more confident to become involved in same-sex friendships. Females in this
study reported more frequent online communication with friends who were girls.
However, it was found that boys reported more frequent online communication with
same-sex friends as well.
What really seems to make a difference between boys and girls in the current
study is that females apparently self-disclosed online in a safer way. Girls reported
discussing personal issues online with their family more frequently than did boys,
whereas males indicated that they communicated online with people they had never
met more frequently than did females. Boys, therefore, seem to accept more risks
online. The main risk boys may take is whether they eventually go to offline
meetings with strangers, as males are more likely to have a dispositional tendency to
seek out novelty and sensations (Livingstone & Helsper, 2007b; Slater et al., 2004).
69

Boys may also run the risk of simply emphasising the importance of their online
engagements, to the extent that they may cut off options for psychosocial
development through the exchanges occurring in face-to-face communication with
family and friends (Donchi & Moore, 2004). Additionally, Livingstone and Helsper
(2007b) argued that boys who take risks when communicating on the Internet
probably come from families that do not highly value conversation.
It has been shown that higher numbers of regular online friendships amongst
boys are related to a lack of social confidence, lower self-esteem or poor social skills
(Donchi & Moore, 2004). Harman et al. (2005) found that children and adolescents
who significantly reported lower self-esteem and less social skills tended to fake and
pretend to be someone else more on the Internet. Thus, these boys may just have role
played or were involved in dating online with peers they had never met.
A possible reason that boys do not communicate as much as girls online is
that friendship for boys may be more about doing things together. Usually their
interests are more focused, narrow, and stereotyped (Mesch, 2005). In fact, boys in
the current study identified videogames and online games plus sports as the only two
online communication topics more frequently discussed than girls. This finding has
been further substantiated by Roberts et al.s (1999) comprehensive analysis of
media use among children and adolescents. However, Subrahmanyam et al. (2001)
point that one issue that has consistently stood out is the gender imbalance in playing
electronic games: Males appear to spend more time playing interactive games than
females do, and this trend continues with the current types of home computer games.
The Relationship of Loneliness and Social Anxiety with Childrens and Adolescents
Online Communication
The results of this study showed that the psychosocial characteristics of
lonely and/or socially anxious children and adolescents were related to their usage of
the Internet for communication purposes. These students reported different usage of
online communication from students who were not lonely and/or socially anxious
(Livingstone & Helsper, 2007b).
First, children and adolescents who were identified as being lonely but not
socially anxious as well as lonely and socially anxious communicated online more
frequently and for a longer duration than those who were only identified as socially
anxious. That is, children and adolescents who self-reported being socially anxious

70

but not lonely spent the least time online in comparison to the other groups of
children and adolescents. Second, lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely
and socially anxious children and adolescents also reported communicating online
more frequently about certain topics and for certain purposes in comparison to
typically developing and socially anxious children and adolescents. Thus, the finding
that those children and adolescents who self-identify as lonely use the Internet more
than others partially supports the social compensation hypothesis, which proposes
that especially socially anxious and/or lonely people turn to online communication in
preference to face-to-face communication (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b). As Suler
(2004) states, people who are mainly lonely have an individual predisposition of
having problems with self-disclosure and intimacy and feeling isolated from others.
Like shy individuals, they have poor interpersonal competencies, so they manifest
conversational difficulties, less enjoyment, or feelings of awkwardness and rejection
in real-life social interactions (Ward & Tracey, 2004). Therefore, they typically
engage in fewer social situations and have fewer close friends than their normatively
adjusted peers, the non-lonely and non-socially anxious.
As a consequence, lonely children and adolescents may have a stronger
motivation to replace face-to-face communication with computer-mediated
communication (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). They are highly attracted to it because
they perceive benefits from its usage (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2003). Due
to the relative anonymity and the reduced auditory and visual cues of the Internet
(Peter et al., 2007), they can practise their weaker social skills and find it even easier
online to meet similar others compared to face-to-face settings (Bonebrake, 2002;
Mesch & Talmud, 2007). Due to the reduced role constraints and social status cues
compared to face-to-face communication, children and adolescents reporting this
condition can also alter their presentation online by presenting more idealised
versions of self as well as role-playing different online personae (Kiesler et al., 1984;
McKenna, 1998; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008).
Depersonalisation due to lack of nonverbal involvement and lack of physical
presence/attractiveness of a partner are other attributes of using online
communication that allow lonely children and adolescents to better express their real
selves with others. Through unlimited time and lack of geographic restraints, they
can open up more easily (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Thus, they may perceive online
disinhibition as liberating (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2003), although
71

disinhibition is just an apparent reduction in concerns for self-presentation and the


judgement of others (Joinson, 1998, p. 44).
The results indicated that lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely and
socially anxious participants communicated online more frequently about personal
things (e.g., serious problems, how you feel, things that bother you, and your
health), people around them who have an influence on their everyday lives (e.g.,
other kids and parents or family), intimate topics (e.g., things you would not
say to someones face, secret or confidential things, and gossip/rumours), and
about their present and past life but not their future. The results did not show any
difference between lonely and/or socially anxious children and adolescents and
typically developing ones in relation to topics such as media or school, social and
cultural life. Moreover, no differences were found among the other online
communication topics that emerged from the open-ended question.
Topics such as serious problems, things that bother you, things you
would not say to someones face, and secret or confidential things are vaguely
defined so their meanings should be clarified with a combined qualitative approach
(Livingstone, 2003). However, it seems that these children and adolescents have
come to particularly value the Internet as a communicative protected environment
in which they find conversation satisfying and feel confident, because they have the
chance to exchange secrets and disclose personal and intimate aspects of their lives
(Livingstone & Helsper, 2007b). Additionally, lonely but not socially anxious as
well as lonely and socially anxious children and adolescents seemed to take this
opportunity seriously, because they failed to report communicating online about
jokes or funny stories more frequently than did the other groups.
A correspondence was found between those topics and the main motive,
social compensation. Peter et al. (2005) found that the social compensation motive
facilitated online friendship formation. Lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely
and socially anxious participants in this study more frequently may have turned to
online communication to compensate lacking social skills. This way they could talk
more comfortably, dare to say more, and feel less shy. The more time these children
and adolescents spent interacting online with someone, the closer they became, and
the more new relationships they were likely to form with other persons as well
(Bonebrake, 2002). Lonely and socially anxious participants asked people on the
Internet to become their friends more frequently than did the other groups of
72

respondents. Hence, they also fulfilled the meeting people motive. Lonely and
socially anxious children and adolescents were motivated to use the Internet more for
forming rather than maintaining relationships, as they did not report communicating
online to keep in touch with their existing friends regardless of where these livedmore frequently than did the other groups.
The social compensation and the meeting people motives are related to each
other. According to the classification by Flaherty, Pearce, and Rubin (1998), both of
them are media-specific communication motives that in turn are associated with
interpersonal communication motives such as social inclusion and entertainment (or,
rather, relaxation). In this study, even partially, these two motives were significant
for lonely but not socially anxious as well as for lonely and socially anxious
respondents. These children and adolescents turned to online communication to
belong to a group and their chat friends, but also to relax, more frequently than the
other two groups. Lonely people may need to belong to or include similar others in a
circle of friends (Rubin et al., 1988), so that they can all become part of a community
which the Internet may bring out into the world of people (Leung, 2002). Lonely
children and adolescents in particular may do so because they have a low sense of
belonging to their own neighbourhood or school community (Pretty, Andrewes, &
Collet, 1994). They may also communicate online because they have a need to
unwind, rest, or feel less tense (Rubin et al., 1988). Leung (2007) argues that the
more lonely children and adolescents perceive that the Internet helps them feel
relaxed, the more they are confident that it provides a constantly accessible social
support for stressful life events that they experience; therefore, they may be
motivated to choose the Internet for seeking entertainment or comfort aimed at
regulating their moods.
If getting to know new people, as previously illustrated, was one of the key
purposes for communicating online for lonely but not socially anxious plus lonely
and socially anxious children and adolescents, then it could be expected that these
children and adolescents would more likely engage with partners who would not be
their friends but, for example, boys, girls or adults they had never met. This intuitive
assumption has been substantiated by Gross et al.s (2002) influential study. These
authors found that those participants aged 11-13-years (N = 130) who reported
feeling lonely or socially anxious in school on a daily basis were more likely to
communicate online with strangers. However, the results of the present study
73

surprisingly showed that lonely but not socially anxious as well as lonely and
socially anxious respondents reported communicating online more frequently with
adults they had met. That implies that these adults at least were not new people to the
respondents; nevertheless, they may have not known these adults well, so they may
have been motivated to get to know them better and make friends or seek their
advice.
Alternatively, those who are mainly lonely may be encouraged to selfdisclose with known adults online, after establishing trust through face-to-face
communication. Further investigation may reveal why and about what online
communication occurred between these people. The influence of loneliness and
social anxiety on the types of online communication partners was not as strong as it
appeared to be on online communication topics and purposes.
Surprisingly, there was a difference between genders for lonely but not
socially anxious plus lonely and socially anxious individuals. First, it was found that
boys within these groups indicated that they communicated online more frequently
with adults they had met. Second, males who reported being mostly lonely used
online communication in particular to self-disclose about personal/intimate topics or
media coherently with social inclusion and social compensation motives. By
contrast, lonely females used online communication in particular to get to know
people they had never met. These results suggest that males are essentially lonely
because they may feel ignored, misunderstood or less privileged than girls in social
situations (Peter & Valkenburg, 2006). Finally, the results indicate that lonely
children and adolescents in general have at least two basic but important needs that
they attempt to fulfil through online communication: the needs to disclose feelings
and to overcome shyness.
Limitations and Future Directions
There are some limitations that should be considered when drawing
conclusions from this study and be addressed in future research. These pertain to the
procedure, research methodology, sample, and measures.
First, the data were cross-sectional. Inferences about whether loneliness
and/or social anxiety reported by this sample occurred before, during, or after their
usage of the Internet for communication purposes cannot be drawn. It cannot not be

74

said that these conditions caused children and adolescents to turn to online
communication, because it is not possible to determine whether these were long-term
or transient problems (Wolak et al., 2003; Ybarra, Alexander, & Mitchell, 2005).
Therefore, future longitudinal studies would be better equipped to address this
important cause-and-effect (or, rather, causal-correlational) issue (Leung, 2002;
Valkenburg & Peter, 2007a).
Second, quantitative survey methodology was used. This approach allowed
investigating general patterns of online communication used by participants with
self-reported loneliness and/or social anxiety in comparison with participants who
did not report significant loneliness and/or social anxiety. However, a mixed-method
approach incorporating both quantitative and qualitative methods is likely to be more
appropriate for studying the multifaceted relationship between Internet use and wellbeing. Future research, therefore, could consider using an in-depth interview to
complement survey data. For example, in order to draw inferences of their
psychosocial well-being, participants could be asked open-ended questions about
their life situations such as school, family, and personal relationships (Wang, 2006).
Participants, however, should be asked whether they seek out relationships online to
enhance, help to create, or in preference to/substitute their offline networks, that is,
to isolate themselves (Scealy et al., 2002).
Third, a non-probabilistic convenience sample limited to Australia was used.
Applications or generalisability of the results from this study to the whole population
of Australian children and adolescents communicating online and/or other
populations may not be justified. Also, the socio-economic status of this sample was
higher in comparison with the Australian population, due to the fact that most
schools accessed to recruit participants were independently run. Therefore, future
research should replicate the present study and/or focus on cross-national
comparisons (Leung, 2002).
Fourth, the instrumentation used in this study presented challenges. Uses of
different online applications were combined in this survey. However, the way people
communicate through them is still different due to the distinction of technologies of
the software (Hu, 2007). Future research should therefore examine relational
communication in separate online environments, in order to prevent the risk of
obtaining misleading findings (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007a). Cronbachs alpha
reliabilities for the list of partners of online communication and for some of the
75

motive scales were not as high as desired. Therefore, future research is encouraged
to be aware of the low levels of internal consistency revealed by these measures.
Frequency and duration of online communication were assessed using
categories in order to assist participants in the approximation of responses (Mazalin
& Moore, 2004). However, such measures of Internet use were self-reported and
thus may have been subject to selective recall and prone to forgetfulness (Reis &
Gable, 2000). Computer tracking of log-on times would be a more accurate
observational method, although there may be scientific and ethical issues associated
with this (Mazalin & Moore, 2004). Another potential criticism is that this study did
not present exhaustive lists of categories for the other patterns of online
communication (topics, partners, and purposes).
Shortened versions of the loneliness and social anxiety scales were employed
to further the study conducted by Valkenburg and Peter (2007b). However, this may
have weakened the analyses in some respects. Although the scales were abbreviated,
they may have yielded likelihood of demand effect. Items that participants may have
felt would lead the researcher to perceive them as lonely and/or socially anxious,
may have resulted in them responding in a biased manner that would indicate the
opposite and be socially acceptable (Pawlak, 2002).
In conclusion, the current study used entirely self-reported data from
respondents. Because of the need to preserve their anonymity, it was not possible to
compare participants actual characteristics with their reported characteristics.
Consequently, it can only be assumed that most participants were candid and
provided truthful responses (Wolak et al., 2003).
Conclusion
The main purpose of this exploratory research, built on the study of
Valkenburg and Peter (2007b), was to understand the relationship of loneliness and
social anxiety with childrens and adolescents online communication. Overall, the
findings of the current study indicate that those who reported being lonely used
patterns of online communication differently from those who did not report being
lonely. In particular, the lonely are likely to fulfil online needs of self-disclosure,
identity exploration and social interactions on which their well-being remarkably
depends (Gross, 2004). That is, the Internet allows them to construct and deal with

76

the same developmental issues that they have in their real lives (Subrahmanyam,
Smahel, & Greenfield, 2006). Age and gender differences in usage of such patterns
were further found not only across the entire sample of participants, but also within
the lonely themselves. Additionally, the present study partially supported the social
compensation hypothesis (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007b), as social anxiety was not
related to online communication as clearly as loneliness was.
Internet communication has become an integral part of childrens and
adolescents psychosocial context (Subrahmanyam & Lin, 2007); however, the
question is: What is then the long-term effect over the course of their development,
especially with regards to those who are lonely and/or socially anxious? Will they
continue to use online communication heavily, or will they tend to integrate their
social skills acquired online into their offline lives? (Moody, 2001) Such questions
were raised after Ward and Tracey (2004) found that online relationships do not
appear to be a panacea for greater relationship satisfaction, support, or engagement.
Complicating the issue is the fact that online communication technologies are rather
new and will continue to advance rapidly, so what is known today may not be valid
in the future (Moody, 2001).
Since it is essential to comprehend whether lonely and/or socially anxious
children and adolescents really use the Internet to alleviate their depressed feelings
or just as a means to escape them, it would appear that further study of online
communication among these vulnerable individuals is warranted on this issue. Future
research should include measures on the quality of their online relationships, and
compare them with the quality of their face-to-face relationships (Valkenburg, Peter,
& Schouten, 2006). Research should also investigate underlying psychosocial factors
related to loneliness and/or social anxiety (Dittmann, 2003), as well as expand the
study of Internet communication among children and adolescents with other
disabling conditions (Stroschein, 2006). Little research has in fact hypothesised
variables that may mediate the relationship between Internet use and well-being
(Valkenburg & Peter, 2007a).
In attempting to conceptualise the developmental difficulties that lonely
and/or socially anxious children and adolescents face, parents, school counsellors,
clinicians, teachers, and educators on the other hand may therefore need to include
Internet use as a factor in explaining their behavioural issues (Dittmann, 2003). It is
imperative that such adults, however, identify and monitor these troubled individuals
77

carefully, in order to prevent them from encountering possible risks on the Internet;
at the same time it is important that such adults be informed of the drawbacks of
online communication (Pelling, 2004). For example, they should be concerned about
whether the lonely and/or socially anxious Net-Generation may adopt faking/hostile
behaviours online (Livingstone & Helsper, 2007b), or above all whether these NetGeners (Tapscott, 1998) give out online personal information to strangers whom
they eventually go to offline meetings with (Beebe, Asche, Harrison, & Quinlan,
2004; Liau et al., 2005). Adults, however, should not be afraid to ask them about
their Internet use and prompt them to discuss the kinds of online relationships that
they are involved in (Subrahmanyam & Lin, 2007; Wolak et al., 2003). This way
parents or professionals would help strengthen lonely and/or socially anxious
childrens and adolescents communication skills, as well as educate them on a
beneficial and safe use of the Internet (Pelling, 2004).
Finally, this research contributes to the literature of online communication
use and its psychosocial consequences. Most notably, online relationships can help
to understand communication as a whole process (Pornsakulvanich, 2005).
Furthermore, differences in usage of online communication between people who are
lonely aid understanding of the relationship of personality variables with Internet use
(Weiser, 2001).

78

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Appendix A

We are asking you these questions because we want to know about young peoples use of
online communication. You and your parents or caregivers have already agreed to
complete this questionnaire but, although we hope you will help us by answering these
questions, you can change your mind now if you like.
There are no right or wrong answers. All people are different.
Please answer all questions as honestly as you can.

YOUR ANSWERS ARE CONFIDENTIAL.


THIS MEANS THAT ONLY THE RESEARCHERS WILL SEE YOUR QUESTIONNAIRE.

DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME ON THIS QUESTIONNAIRE.

GRADE
YOUR AGE

SCHOOL

GIRL

OR

BOY

What is your fathers current job (or his most recent job if he is not currently
working)?

What is your mothers current job (or her most recent job if she is not currently
working)?

How many brothers and sisters do you have in total?

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ONLINE COMMUNICATION QUESTIONNAIRE


ONLINE CHAT refers to different ways of using the Internet to communicate
with other people using tools such as: Instant Messaging applications
(nineMSN/Windows Live Messenger, BigPond, Yahoo! Etc.), social networking
websites (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc.), computer programs (ICQ, ICUii etc.),
and chatting on role-play games (RuneScape etc.).

1. How many days in the past week have you been online to chat?
TICK ONE BOX ONLY.

None
1-2
3-4
5-6
Every day

2. On the last day you were online, approximately how long did you chat in
total?
TICK ONE BOX ONLY.
Less than 15 minutes
Between 15 minutes and one hour
1-2 hours
3-4 hours
More than 4 hours

3. On an average week day, approximately how long in total do you chat online?
TICK ONE BOX ONLY.
Less than 15 minutes
Between 15 minutes and one hour
1-2 hours
3-4 hours
More than 4 hours

4. On an average weekend, approximately how long in total do you chat online?


TICK ONE BOX ONLY.
Less than 15 minutes
Between 15 minutes and one hour
1-2 hours
3-4 hours
More than 4 hours

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5. What do you chat about online?


TICK ALL THAT APPLY (TICK NEVER IF YOU DO NOT APPLY)
Never
Serious problems
Trivial problems (not very important ones)
School work or homework
Things you wouldnt say to someones face
Other kids
Plans for social events
Asking someone to go out with you
Asking someone to be your friend
Teachers
Sports
Videogames and online games
Gossip/rumours
Books
Shopping
Current events
Politics
Your health
Hobbies
Relationships
Things that bother you (fears, frustrations)
Clothes and fashion
Music
TV programmes
Films and videos
Parents or family
Websites
Things related to the computer
How you feel
Breaking up with someone
Your future (e.g., education, jobs)
Things in your past
Things youve done that day
Secret or confidential things
Jokes or funny stories
Holidays
TELL US OTHER THINGS YOU CHAT ABOUT ONLINE
THAT ARE NOT ON THIS LIST
If there are any, please write them below and tick

95

Sometimes

Often

6. Please tick to indicate how often you chat with the following people on line:
Never

Sometimes

Often

Friends who are boys


Friends who are girls
Boys who are not friends
Girls who are not friends
Boys or girls you have never met
Family: parents, brothers/sisters, cousins etc.
Adults you have met
Adults you have never met

7. Here are some reasons people give for communicating online. Please tick to
indicate how often you chat online for each of these reasons:
Never
To have fun
To keep in contact with my friends
To make new friends
Because I enjoy it
To belong to my chat friends
To talk with friends that live far away
To be a member of something
To get to know new people
For pleasure
So I dont get bored
To relax
To have something to do
To speak with my friends from real life
Because I can talk more comfortably
To belong to a group
Because I dare to say more
To feel less shy
Because everybody does it

96

Sometimes

Often

True all the Time

Often True

Sometimes True

Occasionally True

Not at all True

8. Please tick the box that indicates how true the statement is for you.

I get nervous when I meet new people.


I feel shy around people I dont know.
I get nervous when I talk to other kids I dont know
very well.
I feel nervous when Im around certain people.

9. The following statements describe how people sometimes feel. For each
statement, please tick the box that indicates how often you feel this way.

Never

Rarely

Sometimes

How often do you feel that there is no


one you can turn to?
How often do you feel alone?

How often do you feel that you are no


longer close to anyone?
How often do you feel that no one really
knows you well?
How often do you feel isolated from
others

Thank you for completing the questionnaire. Please check that you have
answered all the questions. We appreciate your help with this important
research.

97

Always