Intimacy and the Internet: Relationships with Friends, Romantic Partners, and Family Members

  • Kaveri Subrahmanyam
  • David Šmahel
Part of the Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development book series (ARAD)


Digital communication tools, such as email, instant messaging, text messaging, games, and social networking sites are very popular among adolescents. Youth use them to interact and communicate with their peers as well as their family members. In this chapter, we explore the role of technology in the third task facing adolescents: that of developing intimacy and interconnections with the people in their lives. We consider the mediating role of technology in three important relationships in young people’s lives: friendships and peer group relationships, romantic relationships (dating), and relationships within the family. First, we describe their use of online contexts to interact with their friends and other peers. Because of concerns about purely online friendships, we examine separately their online interactions with offline friends and acquaintances as well as their online relationships with peers, who are not part of their offline world, and the quality of such purely online relationships. Then we describe adolescents’ online romantic relationships, and reflecting extant research, will focus on those that are purely online. The final section will describe technology and teens’ relationships with their family, with a special emphasis on how teens’ status as the technology expert may be altering traditional family dynamics and relationships. The chapter concludes by raising questions about whether adolescents’ online interactions with their peers may transform their friendships and disrupt their family relationships.


Romantic Relationship Social Networking Site Romantic Partner Family Cohesion Friendship Quality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2006, September). Stranger contact in adolescent online social networks. Philadelphia: Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 19, 2009, from
  2. Bee, H. L. (1994). Lifespan development. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Boneva, S. S., Quinn, A., Kraut, E. R., Kiesler, S., & Shklovski, I. (2006). Teenage communication in the instant messaging era. In R. E. Kraut (Ed.), Information technology at home (pp. 612–672). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bouchey, H. A., & Furman, W. (2004). Dating and romantic experiences in adolescence. In R. G. Adams & M. D. Berzonsky (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of adolescence. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, B. B. (2004). Adolescents’ relationships with peers. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed., pp. 363–394). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, B. B., & Klute, C. (2004). Friendships, cliques, and crowds. In M. R. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  7. Buhrmester, D., & Prager, K. (1995). Patterns and functions of self-disclosure during childhood and adolescence. In K. J. Rotenberg (Ed.), Disclosure processes in children and adolescents (pp. 10–56). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chan, D. K. S., & Cheng, G. H. L. (2004). A comparison of offline and online friendship qualities at different stages of relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 305–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dunphy, D. C. (1963). The social structure of urban adolescent peer groups. Sociometry, 26, 230–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, youth, and crisis (1st ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  11. Furman, W., Brown, B. B., & Feiring, C. (1999). Contemporary perspectives on adolescent romantic relationships. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Giordano, P. C. (1995). The wider circle of friends in adolescence. The American Journal of Sociology, 101, 661–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gross, E. F. (2004). Adolescent Internet use: What we expect, what teens report. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 633–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kaare, B. H., Brandtzaeg, P. B., Heim, J., & Endestad, T. (2007). In the borderland between family orientation and peer culture: The use of communication technologies among Norwegian tweens. New Media & Society, 9, 603–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kennedy, T. L. M., Smith, A., Wells, A. T., & Wellman, B. (2008). Networked families. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved September 9, 2009, from
  16. Kraut, R. E., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 49–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kraut, R. E., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukopadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychologist, 53, 1017–1031.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2007). Social networking websites and teens: An overview. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved November 3, from
  19. Ling, R., & Yttri, B. (2006). Control, emancipation, and status: The mobile telephone in teens’ parental and peer relationships. In R. E. Kraut, M. Brynin, & S. Kiesler (Eds.), Computers, phones, and the Internet: Domesticating information technology (pp. 219–235). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Macgill, A. R. (2007). Parent and teenager Internet use. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved November 8, 2008, from
  21. Mesch, G. S. (2003). The family and the Internet: The Israeli case. Social Science Quarterly, 84, 1039–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mesch, G. S. (2006a). Family characteristics and intergenerational conflicts over the Internet. Information, Communication and Society, 9, 473–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mesch, G. S. (2006b). Family relations and the Internet: Exploring a family boundaries approach. Journal of Family Communication, 6, 119–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mesch, G. S., & Talmud, I. (2006). The quality of online and offline relationships: The role of multiplexity and duration of social relationships. Information Society, 22, 137–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mesch, G. S., & Talmud, I. (2007). Similarity and the quality of online and offline social relationships among adolescents in Israel. Journal of Research on Adolescence (Blackwell Publishing Limited), 17, 455–465.Google Scholar
  26. Miller, B. C., & Benson, B. (1999). Romantic and sexual relationship development during adolescence. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Ochs, E., Graesch, A. P., Mittman, A., Bradbury, T., & Repetti, R. (2006). Video ethnogroaphy and ethnoarcheological tracking. In E. E. Kossek & S. Sweet (Eds.), The work and family handbook: Multi-disciplinary perspectives and approaches (pp. 387–409). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. Peter, J., Valkenburg, P. M., & Schouten, A. P. (2005). Developing a model of adolescent friendship formation on the Internet. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8, 423–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pombeni, M. L., Kirchler, E., & Palmonari, A. (1990). Identification with peers as a strategy to muddle through the troubles of the adolescent years. Journal of Adolescence, 13, 351–369.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rainie, L., & Kohut, A. (2000). Tracking online life: How women use the Internet to cultivate relationships with family and friends. The Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved October, 31, 2008 from
  31. Rambaree, K. (2008). Internet-mediated dating/romance of mauritian early adolescents: A grounded theory analysis. International Journal of Emerging Technologies & Society, 6, 34–59.Google Scholar
  32. Reich, S. M., Subrahmanyam, K., & Espinoza, G. E. (2009, April 3). Adolescents’ use of social networking sites – Should we be concerned? Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Denver, CO.Google Scholar
  33. Ribak, R. (2009). Remote control, umbilical cord and beyond: The mobile phone as a transitional object. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 183–196.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rosen, L. D. (2007). Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the net generation. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  35. Ryan, A. M. (2001). The peer group as a context for the development of young adolescent motivation and achievement. Child Development, 72, 1135–1150.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Šmahel, D. (2003). Psychologie a Internet: Děti dospělými, dospělí dětmi. [Psychology and Internet: Children being adults, adults being children.]. Prague: Triton.Google Scholar
  37. Šmahel, D., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2007). “Any girls want to chat press 911”: Partner selection in monitored and unmonitored teen chat rooms. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 10, 346–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Šmahel, D., & Vesela, M. (2006). Interpersonal attraction in the virtual environment. Ceskoslovenska Psychologie, 50, 174–186.Google Scholar
  39. Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  40. Subrahmanyam, K., Garcia, E. C., Harsono, S. L., Li, J., & Lipana, L. (2009). In their words: Connecting online weblogs to developmental processes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 219–245.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Subrahmanyam, K., & Greenfield, P. M. (2008). Online communication and adolescent relationships. The Future of Children, 18, 119–146.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Subrahmanyam, K., Reich, S. M., Waechter, N., & Espinoza, G. (2008). Online and offline social networks: Use of social networking sites by emerging adults. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 420–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thornton, A. (1990). The courtship process and adolescent sexuality. Journal of Family Issues, 11, 239–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Preadolescents’ and adolescents’ online communication and their closeness to friends. Developmental Psychology, 43, 267–277.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of the Internet for adolescents. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Valkenburg, P. M., Peter, J., & Schouten, A. (2006). Friend networking sites and their relationship to adolescents’ well-being and social self-esteem. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9, 584–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wallace, P. M. (1999). The psychology of the Internet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., & Mitchell, K. (2008). Is talking online to unknown people always risky? Distinguishing online Interaction styles in a national sample of youth Internet users. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11, 340–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2002). Close online relationships in a national sample of adolescents. Adolescence, 37, 441.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2003). Escaping or connecting? Characteristics of youth who form close online relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 26, 105–119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yum, Y.-O., & Hara, K. (2005). Computer-mediated relationship development: A cross-cultural comparison. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 133–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Social StudiesMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations