US teens tune into online friendships

SAN FRANCISCO - The online world is where it's at for teens looking to make friends.

A study released Thursday found more than half of US teens have met new friends through social networks or video game forums.

Friendships made on the Internet tend to remain virtual, however, with only 20 percent reporting they have met an online friend in the flesh, the Pew Research Center study found.

"Mobile phones, social media, and for boys, online video gaming, have become deeply enmeshed in creating and maintaining teen friendships," said Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart, lead author on the report.

"In many instances, these technologies make teens feel closer and more connected to their friends." Some 57 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 surveyed said they had made a friend online, with 29 percent claiming to have made five or more new friends that way.

Social media venues such as Facebook and Instagram were prime arenas for meeting new friends, with 64 percent of teens saying they found pals there.

Girls were more likely to make new friends on social networks, while boys were much more inclined to connect with new friends while playing video games online, according to the study.

Nearly three-quarters of teens surveyed said they have access to smartphones, and instant messaging was a preferred method of communicating with friends.

"Teenagers always spend a lot of time with their friends in person, especially in schools," Lenhart said.

"But cellphones, social media, and for boys, online video games are becoming more deeply involved in the creation and maintenance of friendships." Seventy percent of social-media using teens said that it made them feel better connected to friends, but 88 percent of that group felt that people share too much information at those venues.

The online survey conducted by GfK Group received responses from 1,060 teens through a parent or guardian from September 25 to October 9, 2014 and February 10 to March 16, 2015. The margin of error was estimated at 3.7 percentage points.