As Internet use among teenagers has grown exponentially in the last 10 years (Becker, 2000), so has concern over its effect on their psychological well-being. Of over 1,000 U.S. parents surveyed in 1999, almost two thirds expressed concern that "going on-line too often may lead children to become isolated from other people," whereas 40% endorsed the belief that "children who spend too much time on the Internet develop antisocial behavior" (Turow, 1999).
Such apprehensions are not simply the fears of overprotective parents; they received initial empirical support from the first major study of the Internet's psychological impact. A longitudinal investigation of first-time Internet users known as the HomeNet study (Kraut et al., 1998) reported that using the Internet for as little as 3 hr weekly led to increased levels of depression and reductions in social support over the course of 2 years. Results showed teenagers to be the population most vulnerable to these negative effects. Kraut and colleagues speculated that adolescents' heavy usage of the Internet for on-line communication led them to forsake critical bonds with local friends and family for weak relations with strangers.
In considering the application of Kraut and colleagues' findings to adolescents, two concerns in particular should be noted. First, because the HomeNet sample did not include a non-Internet-using control group, we cannot determine how much of the downward trend in participants' well-being was due to their Internet use or to the unfortunate but steady decline in perceived social support and overall contentment typically reported by youth as they proceed through adolescence (Larson, 1999). Second, the Kraut et al. study (like most studies of youth Internet use, e.g., Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999) did not gather detailed accounts of on-line social activity (i.e., with whom and about what Internet users were communicating). Given the importance of supportive peer relationships to healthy adolescent development (for a review, see Hartup, 1996), we argue that an understanding of the relation between youth Internet use and psychological well-being requires a consideration of with whom adolescents communicate on-line.
Well-Being and Close Relationships
The need to form and maintain strong interpersonal bonds has been described as a fundamental need (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) and one that is critical to healthy development (e.g., Sullivan, 1953). Research on young adults has found that feeling close and connected to others on a daily basis is associated with higher daily well-being, and in particular, feeling understood and appreciated and sharing pleasant interactions are especially strong predictors of well-being (Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, & Ryan, 2000). As outlined by Reis and Shaver (1988), intimacy is developed and sustained through social exchanges with responsive others (e.g., pleasant interactions and feeling understood). Intimacy emerges as an expectation for peer relationships in late childhood or early adolescence (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Sullivan, 1953), and the expectations and meanings of friendships remain constant throughout adolescence and adulthood. Thus close and meaningful interactions with peers are likely to be at least as important to adolescent well-being as they are to adult well-being. Indeed, research affirms that close peer relationships contribute positively to adolescent self-esteem and well-being, whereas peer relationship problems such as peer rejection and a lack of close friends are among the strongest predictors of depression and negative self-views (see Hartup, 1996). From the perspective of intimacy theory (Reis & Shaver, 1988), Internet use could undermine or foster well-being, depending on whether it supplants (as suggested by Kraut et al., 1998) or expands opportunities for meaningful, daily contact with close peers.
Adolescent Internet Use
Two advances in the use of the Internet are important to our understanding of the nature of on-line relationships and social exchanges. First, new technologies have been developed to further facilitate synchronous on-line interaction with known others. One such feature, instant messages (IMs), allows users to be informed when friends are on-line and to chat with them through text windows that appear on the screens of the two parties involved. Because of its dyadic, realtime, and private format, the IM is structurally and functionally comparable to other important and pervasive forms of social interaction in adolescence: "hanging out" face to face and talking on the phone. Indeed, a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2001) indicates that for a fifth of American teenage Internet users, instant messaging (IMing) has become the primary means of contacting friends. Second, with more youth (particularly from middle- and upper-income households) accessing the Internet from home than ever before, teens are increasingly likely to find their close friends on-line. Thus, youth need not necessarily forsake their school-based relationships when they log on; the Internet can now be both a space in which to interact with distant associates and strangers and a supplemental medium for communication with one's established, off-line peer network.
The Present Study
We present findings from a study on adolescents' daily Internet use and psychological adjustment, with a specific focus on IMing. Participants in this research completed three daily reports of their overall well-being, socially specific adjustment (loneliness and social anxiety in school), and after-school activity, including Internet use. Dispositional measures of these variables were also collected in participants' classrooms prior to the daily reporting. Given the tendency for psychological well-being (Reis et al., 2000) and loneliness (Larson, 1999) to fluctuate within and across days as a function of social contact, we expected that daily indicators of well-being would be especially important to consider.
Analyses will be presented in two parts: descriptive and correlational. First, distinct forms of Internet use will be explored in the context of both overall time on-line and time in non-Internet activities. The second set of results will be devoted to the investigation of associations among on-line activity and well-being. It is proposed that with the increasing ease and speed of …