By Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Ph.D., and Rachel Chamberlain, Search Institute

Many teachers, youth workers, counselors, and other leaders have been thrust into an all-online world for our jobs (and the rest of our lives) by the coronavirus pandemic. We know it’s important to keep our relationships strong during this time. But how?

It’s time to turn to the experts. For some young people social media and the phone are the primary way they stay in touch with many of their friends. What can they teach the rest of us?

Last year, Search Institute and SPARK, an area-wide coalition in the Itasca area of northern Minnesota, released the results of a survey of more than 3,000 middle and high school students in seven school districts. We asked them if they had friends online that they hadn’t met in “real life.” Overall, 46% of these students said they did.

These young people were completely aware of both the upsides and downsides of online connections; they’ve experienced both. But what was most striking—and relevant for these times—were their insights about how online relationships can help and hurt in-person relationships with their friends. Some of their ideas are only relevant to relationships with their friends (and wouldn’t work well with adult-youth relationships). But what might we learn from them as we seek to maintain our own connections during this difficult time?



Click on chart to view PDF version

This chart is excerpted from: Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2019). Good friends … Online & in person: How Itasca area youth think about friends and social media. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute, and Grand Rapids, MN: SPARK—Stronger Futures for All. May be copied for educational uses only.



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