For young people today, having only a handful of close friends is an increasingly old-fashioned concept.

While teens have always tended to travel in packs and cliques, an excellent article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune made the case that the baseline for friendship is shifting; friendships in the age of social networking seem more fluid and superficial.

As the border between acquaintances and friends blur, what, then, is true friendship?

“Technology, modern-day parenting techniques and social norms have made it possible – if not preferable – for teens to claim hundreds of friends on their Facebook pages, to text weekend plans to dozens at a time from their cell phones and to spend hours electronically keeping up with people they barely know rather than actually talking to one close friend,” writes reporter Vikki Ortiz Healy.

If you don’t think this has an effect on the development of negotiation and socializing skills, ask a teen to name all 440 of their facebook friends (that, incidentally, is the median number of friends for facebook users ages 10 to 20).

Friends you can’t even name? That’s tough to comprehend.

Society, it seems, is redefining the concept of friendship.

That’s not to say having a ton of facebook “friends” is somehow wrong. But there’s a distinction to be made here between the casual acquaintances that come and go, and the friendships that are cultivated and that last through thick and thin.

Building relationships of substance takes time, effort and a certain level of conflict management skill. But it’s an investment like none other.

But there’s only one way to discover its rewards: Log off and give it a try.

Kathy Mangold
Verbal Defense & Influence Instructor
Former editor, metroparent magazine,0,5003640.story