The relationship of loneliness and social anxiety with children's and adolescents' online communication

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Jun;13(3):279-85. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2009.0215.


Children and adolescents now communicate online to form and/or maintain relationships with friends, family, and strangers. Relationships in "real life" are important for children's and adolescents' psychosocial development; however, they can be difficult for those who experience feelings of loneliness and/or social anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate differences in usage of online communication patterns between children and adolescents with and without self-reported loneliness and social anxiety. Six hundred twenty-six students ages 10 to 16 years completed a survey on the amount of time they spent communicating online, the topics they discussed, the partners they engaged with, and their purposes for communicating over the Internet. Participants were administered a shortened version of the UCLA Loneliness Scale and an abbreviated subscale of the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SAS-A). Additionally, age and gender differences in usage of the online communication patterns were examined across the entire sample. Findings revealed that children and adolescents who self-reported being lonely communicated online significantly more frequently about personal and intimate topics than did those who did not self-report being lonely. The former were motivated to use online communication significantly more frequently to compensate for their weaker social skills to meet new people. Results suggest that Internet usage allows them to fulfill critical needs of social interactions, self-disclosure, and identity exploration. Future research, however, should explore whether or not the benefits derived from online communication may also facilitate lonely children's and adolescents' offline social relationships.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Psychology, Child
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Perception