IDENTITY, THE INTERNET ADDICTION AND TEENAGERS: A PRELIMINARY STUDY

Cristinel STEFÃNESCU*, Roxana CHIRITÃ**, Gabriela CHELE***, Mircea ILINCA****, Vasile CHIRITÃ**


Rezumat

Noi am investigat factorii care influenteazã angajarea adolescentilor într-un comportament riscant pe Internetului, în particular factorii în legãturã cu perceptia relatiilor romantice on-line si a dezvoltãrii identitãtii. Toti elevii, cu vârste cuprinse între 15 si 18 ani, sunt din trei licee din Iasi. Autorii au examinat formarea identitãtii on-line si a sexualitãtii la 30 de elevi care au fost implicati în relatii romantice on-line si pentru completarea cercetãrii s-au evaluat relatiile din perspectiva perceptiei despre relatiile on-line si (a) utilizarea Internetului (cu posibilã identificare a dependentei de calculator), (b) perceperea realitãtii pe Internet si (c) credintele romantice.

Rezultatele aratã cã urmãtorii factori sunt predictori pentru angajarea adolescentilor în întâlnirile fatã în fatã: frecventa utilizãrii Internetului, frecventa utilizãrii chat-ului, regulile parentale, tipul de informatii personale transmise pe net, mesajele nepotrivite primite sau web-siteurile nepotrivite care au fost vizitate si tipul de informatii de pe internet auzite.
Cercetarea aratã cã timpul pentrecut on-line este pozitiv corelat cu perceptia favorabilã fatã de relatiile romantice on-line. Credintele romantice pot fie le însele mai mult decât notiuni conventionale despre relatii. Implicatiile pentru dezvoltare si mentinerea relatiilor on-line, cu impact asupra dimensiunii sociale este discutatã.

Cuvinte cheie: construirea identitãtii, relatii romantice on-line, dependenta de internet
Abstract

We investigated factors that influence adolescents' engagement in risky Internet behavior, in particular the factors relating to perceptions of online romantic relationships and development identity.
All the students, aged between 15 to 18 years old, come from 3 high schools of Iasi. The authors examined the online construction of identity and sexuality at 30 teenagers, who had been involved in an online romantic relationship and completed a survey to assess relationships among perceptions of online romantic relationships and (a) amount of Internet use (with the identification of a possible computer addiction), (b) perceived realism of the Internet, and (c) romantic beliefs. Results indicated that the following factors were found to be predictors of adolescents engagement in such face-to-face meetings: frequency of Internet use, frequency of chatting, parental rules, type of personal information given out, amount of inappropriate messages received, whether inappropriate websites have been visited, and type of internet advice heard.

The survey reveal that amount of time spent online for the Internet are positively related to more favorable perceptions of online romantic relationships. Romantic beliefs, therefore, may lend themselves to more conventional notions of relationships. Implications for and development and maintenance of online relationships, as impacted by social support networks, are discussed.

Keywords: construction of identity, online romantic relationships, internet addiction.


INTRODUCTION

The Internet can be a wonderful learning tool or resources, the connection between local learning environments and virtual learning environments. Cyberspace has become the new frontier in social relationships. People are making friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies on the Internet. In every culture, people are expected to act within a certain set of rules. Some people live in a world where they are ashamed of who they are, and try to hide their true self behind a mask. Others are curious as to what it would be like to live the life of someone else. (1) Socializing in cyberspace is just a phase that people go through. The critics say it can't compare to real relationships - and if some people prefer communicating with others via wires and circuits, there must be something wrong with them. The increasing pervasiveness of the Internet in the lives of adolescents is by now well established but there remains a dearth of research on what exactly youth are doing when they are online, with whom, and why-and, moreover, how these aspects of Internet use may be related to young people's well-being and development. (2) Online communities have allowed for these people to explore who they really are or want to be, anonymously, without shame. "Similar to the ways previous media dissolved social boundaries related to time and space, the latest computer-mediated communications media seem to dissolve boundaries of identity as well," said Rheingold.

The online world has such a large number of cultures and subcultures that there is a group to which everyone can find a sense of belonging. (3) Identity is the result of the process through which the individual assumes social values, shared norms of behaviour and knowledge which allow the individual to feel part of a social group and at the same time, allow him to be recognized. Therefore, viewed as part of the psychical dimension that permits the realization of self. (3,4) It has been suggested that people with low selfesteem turn to the Internet to reduce the chances of rejection, to find support, and to discuss their emotions.
Other scholars have suggested that the appeal of the Internet lies in the possibility it offers to construct a new identity for oneself. (4,5)
The construction of a healthy sexuality is a major task facing adolescents. Another major task facing adolescents is that of developing stable and consistent identities: gender, sexual, moral, political, and religious. (6)

A stable identity consists of one's self-definition, as well as the roles and relationships one takes on, and one's personal values or moral beliefs. (7)
Research suggests that peers and romantic partners play an important role in adolescents' construction of their sexuality and identity (8)
Ward, 2004, has reported that peers along with media are important sources of sexual information for teens. Research with college students suggests that conversations with friends during the high school years was an important source of sex-related information; conversations with best friends has been found to be related to sexual attitudes and behaviors. (9)
Other conversation topics with peers during the adolescent years include appearance and the self, two important aspects of identity construction. Up until now, adolescents' peer conversations about sex and sexuality were hard to study. Teen chat, the location of this Internet study, has three main advantages for researchers: it makes peer conversations accessible for study; it provides the conversations in a written form without requiring transcription; and last, but perhaps most important, the conversations are recorded without the intrusive presence of the researcher-observer.

METHODS
Design
For collecting the data concerning this issue we used a questionnaire for the students. These were aimed at highlighting: 1.Frequency of computer use by the students with internet addiction; 2.Predictor's factors for adolescent's engagement in such face-to-face meetings 3.Perceived realism of the Internet; 4. Romantic beliefs. The data were processed using the SPSS statistics software, 11.0 version.

Participants
The survey included a representative sample of 30 school students. All the students come from 3 high schools in Iasi, Romania, aged between 15 to 18 years old and included 57.7% girls.

Procedure
They volunteered to confidentially complete surveys during their regularly scheduled class times. Most questions supposed to rate on a scale the frequency of occurrence of a certain event or issue; some questions solicited an open-answer or to choose an answer from a list. The themes were chosen according to the objectives of the study and were based on the previous research concerning students' interests and needs at this age. Surveys contained a combination of interval scales and open-ended questions.

RESULTS
Both the boys and the girls think that the computers are absolutely essential in today's society (90%) Results show a slight tendency of students to spend more time alone with their computer, giving up their social or family duties; the survey also identified some situations close to school abandonment by students. Overall, 70% of subjects report that often and very often it happens to stay longer in front of the computer than initially expected. The results within the groups show a tendency of the 15-18 years old students to lose control more often of the time spent on the computer.
APR - Figura 1 Fig 1: Students having a computer and being connected to the Internet
Concerning the time spent in using the computer, the overall results show that children spend a considerable amount of time with the computer, on average more than three hours per day (Table 2). All students prefer to use the computer very late, after 11 pm.
Results indicated that the following factors were found to be predictors of adolescent's engagement in

such face-to-face meetings: frequency of Internet use, frequency of chatting, parental rules, type of personal information given out, amount of inappropriate messages received, websites have been visited, and type of internet advice heard.
Table 1: Time spent on computer per day
High internet use was also associated with a greater likelihood of having a close or romantic online relationship with someone encountered online, and there were a disproportionate number of troubled youth (youth with high levels of depression and peer victimization) who have had such online relationships. A single person's identity embodies multiplicity.
Wolak et al. also speculated that online relationships may "amplify alienation among troubled youth by encouraging racism, fascination with violence, and other antisocial attitudes."
Perceived realism of the Internet was measured using a Likert-type scale (the scale has a five-item). We find that a positive relationship between perceived realism of the Internet and perception online romantic relationships. Thus, as Internet use increases, the perceptions of online relationships are more positive. This finding also reflects the results of previous studies regarding media and technology that document positive relationships among computer use and ratings of computer liking. One very fundamental way in which participants express their identities in chat rooms is via their screen names, called nicknames or nicks. In a chat room, there is no physical embodiment of gender or other physical markers of identity.

Nicknames then become the initial and primary vehicle through which teen participants present their identity to others in the chat room-a kind of substitute for the face and body.
We found a high concordance between stated gender identity and the more implicit message conveyed by the nicknames.
Mitchell et al., 2003, found that a variety of parental supervision techniques such as having rules about the number of hours spend online, asking what youth do online, checking the history function, and using filters were not related to the risk of receiving sexual solicitations. However, two particular Internet rules relating specifically to not having face-to-face meetings, and not meeting strangers online lowered the risk of such a meeting. Also, adolescents who had heard the Internet safety advice never to arrange to meet anyone were less likely to have had a face-to-face meeting. Both sexuality and personal identity are key adolescent issues. (10). Consequently we see that adolescents spend a lot of time talking about sex, exchanging sexual jokes and sex-oriented literature as well as using sex slang. (11) They are also sexually active.

DISCUSSION

Frequently mentioned as a recruiting tool, Internet accessibility is often provided free of charge, with many schools having Internet connections in residence hall rooms or available at home 24 hours per day. The fourth research question addresses the issue of dependence, a term that has created a great deal of controversy and discussion in forums focusing on computermediated communication. Instead of revisiting that discussion, this study used criteria that were modeled after the DSM-IV TR criteria for all forms of substance dependence.
While no actual substances are involved in typical Internet use, this is similar to the concept of dependence. The DSM-IV TR currently lists seven criteria that are used to determine substance dependence. A diagnosis of dependence is based on the presence of 3 or more of these symptoms occurring at any time in the same 12 month period:
1. Do you feel preoccupied with the internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)
2. Do you feel the need to use the internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction 3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop internet use
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended
6. Have you jeopardised or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the internet
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the internet
8. Do you use the internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (for example, feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression) ?
For the purpose of this study, the seven true/false questions that most closely paralleled the diagnostic criteria as listed above were used to discriminate those who were considered Internet dependent from those that were not dependent. An individual was described as dependent if they responded, in the required direction, to three or more of these questions.
The most frequent type of theoretical model for conceptualizing the role of media in human development is an effects model, in which the content of media is believed to affect children's attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. (12)

Manual for Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition). Sunt amintite deficiente ale abilitãtilor socio-comunicative care determinã la randul lor probleme de integrare socialã, probleme de limbaj si vorbire, comportament autoagresiv si agresiv, rigiditate comportamentalã, interese obsesive (Rutter et al., 1999; Rutter et al., 2001). Este important sã mentionãm faptul cã acest sindrom comportamental a fost descris în literatura de specialitate nu doar la copiii care au crescut într-un mediu institutional ci si la cei care au crescut într-un mediu familial carentat, caracterizat de lipsa stimulilor socioafectivi( Shin, 1999).
Existenta unor diferente între tabloul simptomatologic al autismului clasic si cel caracteristic copiilor mai sus amintiti i-a fãcut însã pe cercetãtori sã fie reticenti în a identifica total acest sindrom comportamental cu boala autistã.
Spre deosebire de autismul clasic, pentru sindromul autistic-like caracteristicã nu este izolarea socialã autoimpusã (desi existã importante probleme de integrare socialã si de comunicare) ci existenta stereotipiilor comportamentale. Interesele neobiºnuit de intense pentru un anumit tip de senzatie, manierismele motorii, preocupãrile stranii si obsesive sunt cele care predominã în tabloul simptomatologic al sindromului comportamental mai sus amintit. Mai mult, se pare cã aceastã simptomatologie semiautistã tinde sã se amelioreze în perioada post-adoptie, vârsta de 4-6 ani fiind în mod particular hotãrâtoare pentru angajarea pe un parcurs favorabil(Rutter et al., 1999; Zeanah et al., 2003). În pofida diferentelor mai sus mentionate, existenta acestui sindrom autistic-like la copiii care au crescut într-un mediu deviant, traumatizant ridicã o serie de probleme de naturã teoreticã, în masurã sã nuanteze discutia cu privire la rolul factorilor genetici si ambientali în etiopatogenia autismului.
Autismul este în unanimitate considerat astãzi o boalã complexã a dezvoltãrii, cu substrat neurologic si determinism genetic.

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