Real Friends vs Virtual Friends

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-07-2013
Real Friends vs Virtual Friends
Thu, 03-07-2013 - 2:16pm

Hi everyone. I have a dilemma with my DD. She is 12. She has always had a lot of friends, had friends over or gone the their houses. For her 12th birthday we got her an ipod. She played with it often but still hung around with her friends.. She recived a laptop this past Christmas and now she wants nothing to do with her friends. She rather "play" with her virtual friends on the computer. We know her passwords and her father checks her laptop and ipod frquently to monitor the sites she goes on. She has not been on any inappropriate sites. She rarely has friends over, doesn't go to their houses or make plans with them anymore. At times she rather stay home with her computer than go out to dinner with me and her father.  She is withdrawing from her friends and family. She is in activities such as cheerleading, dance and gymnastics.but she is not making friends with these kids. We try to limit her computer use (no computer until homework is done, only 2 hours a day on weekends) but nothing works. She has misbehaved and lost her privilages for days at a time and she acts like her life is over if she does not have her electonics. Any ideas on what to do? I want her to have real friends.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Thu, 03-07-2013 - 3:16pm

I think many parents face the same problem.  I know we are facing it.  The issues are complicated for my 12yo DS, and I won't get into them now.

This is an age where friendships are tenuous and easily broken.  Your DD may have had a falling out with her good friends and find it hard to make new friends.  My now-18yo DD, who has terrific social skills, was constantly agonizing over the way people treated each other in middle school (she was fortunate to have 3 BFFs at the time who were really nice kids, and one is still her BFF, so she was not the victim).  Many of her elementary school friends fell away in middle school because she just didn't like them anymore and hadn't yet made new friends.  She's a senior now with a large circle of friends - she isn't "popular" but she has a dozen very good friends and has had a busy social life since 9th grade - but middle school saw her social circle shrinking, not expanding.  I think that happens a lot.

Online "friends" are easier to deal with than RL friends because they're not in front of you, demanding your attention.  You play games, you have fun, you don't deal with real life stuff.  What kid wouldn't find that easier than dealing with nasty middle schoolers?  At this age also I don't think they place different value on friendships with people they've never met - as far as DS is concerned, if he plays a game online with someone, that person is now his friend.

You should however draw firmer boundaries than you seem to have so far (based on your post, I'm sure there's lots more you haven't posted about it). I would not give a 12yo her own laptop, period.  If she had it, the only place she would be allowed to use it is where I can see it.  Our rule is no electronics in the bedroom until you're 18, unless you can prove earlier that you know how to set your own boundaries. 

We found DS would try to race through his homework to get to the computer, so his rule is:  15 mins on his game when he gets home, then no more videogames til after dinner.  Period.  He can have another 15 mins after dinner.  On the weekend he gets an hour but it has to be taken in 30-min increments.  If he forgets to set the timer, he loses the next session.  This keeps the punishment short-term rather than dragging on forever.  (One thing I learned from older, wiser parents is that if you institute extreme punishments, then the child has nothing left to lose, so she'll do whatever she wants because it can't get any worse.)

Other rules we have are that kids do NOT get a choice about whether they're going to go someplace with you if you tell them they're going.  There is plenty of time in the day for electronics.  There is no substitute for dinner out, visiting a friend with a new dog, going shopping, etc.  Those experiences are necessary ones for every kid to get to know the world and develop practical skills, so they ALWAYS take priority.  Computers are for downtime, not the main event.

Speaking of which - back to work for me. ;)

Community Leader
Registered: 07-26-1999
Fri, 03-08-2013 - 9:09am

I think the other poster has given you some great advice!!  I don't have much to add other than middle school is a very hard age friend wise, and she is right, its much easier for kids to navigate that in the electronic world as it doesn't entail as much effort.  The fact that she is still in plenty of activities and interacting, even on a surface level, with other kids her age is good. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Fri, 03-08-2013 - 3:59pm

I think the middle school years are difficult.  My DD was extremely social, so much so that I don't think she could stand to be alone for a minute.  My joke was that as one girl was going out the door, she was thinking of who she could call next--so to her being w/ real people was definitely preferable to online.  when DS was around that age, I really thought that he'd never have any friends.  Because I had to work he spent a lot of time at home during the summer when he was too old for camp & too young for work and I thought that he'd end up being one of those kids who just watched TV all day or was on the computer and would never have friends.  By the time he got to 9th grade things were starting to get better.  He never became "popular" which I think was because he is gay (we didn't know at that time) so he didn't really fit in with most boys.  But he did get a couple of good friends (mostly girls) & finally wanted to have them over, go to the movies & things like that.  I would sometimes ask him about having kids over, you know, wondering if he was a social outcast at school & he said he did talk to kids at school & had people to sit with at lunch, but seeing them at school was enough and by the summer, he was kind of sick of them.  So in some ways, I do think that she will outgrow this as she gets older.  I think this is an age where a lot of girls are mean and can be in cliques and it's sometimes easier not to get involved.

I also wonder how much time she is really online with the virtual friends if she is in several activities and you limit her computer time to 2 hrs a day on weekends--what else is she doing to pass the time on weekends? I'd also limit the time on week nights to maybe an hour, assuming she is doing well in school--she could always read a book.  I would spend time talking to her (and try not to make it seem like an interrogation since they take eveyrthing so personally) about who she likes in school, would she like to have a girl over or you could take them to the movies or something and ask if there is a reason she does not like to socialize now--is there someone who's not being nice to her, do the other girls exclude her, etc.?  I would also make her go out to dinner if you & her dad are going--just tell her it's family time & no one is going to be using any electronics.