I have a kid who spends a lot of time online. Like a whole LOT of a lot. Apart from a couple of friends from school, Arwulf’s most important peer relationships take place over the Internet, on Tumblr, in anime and fanfiction forums, over IM and Skype.
And while most of these relationships are casual, a couple are friendships as deep and textured as any face to face relationship.
These kids have never met in person. They are scattered across the English-speaking world: the US, UK, Australia. They must negotiate time zones and school schedules to spend time with each other.
But spend time together they do.
How are these not “real” friends?
It’s telling that so many people learn about Arwulf’s online friendships and immediately focus on the potential dangers. “How do you know these friends are who they are pretending to be?” they ask, envisioning some skeevy 40 year-old impersonating teenage girls on Tumblr to gratify his perverse desires.
Skeevy 40 year-olds certainly abound on the internet, and some of them no doubt hang about on Tumblr. But that’s not who Arwulf is hanging around with. For one thing, I’ve seen these kids. Like when Arwulf waltzes around the house with her laptop, giving her friend a tour (“Here’s the living room. Here’s the kitchen and our giant ball of rubber bands. Here's my mom. Say hi to Nikki, mom!”). Or when I loom over my daughter’s shoulder during webcam chats. (“Hi Sophia! Arwulf has a dentist appointment in 20 minutes; she’s got to sign off now…”)
I know more than their faces. I know that Sophia shares Arwulf’s love of the wilder shores of European history. That Megan likes being taller than her friends. That Nikki can share her plans to smash the patriarchy in one breath and squee about the adorableness of baby lambs in the next. That they look out for each other when discussions in their circle get heated or unkind. That they, like Arwulf’s local school friends, seem to be bright, nerdy, engaged and funny.
They may meet in person some day, or they may not. If they do, I am sure their relationships will shift in response to real-world proximity. They will learn things about each other they don’t know now.
But they don’t need to meet face to face to become Real Friends. They are that already.
Note: As always when blogging about my kids, I have received Arwulf's permission to post this entry. Arwulf's friends are not actually named Megan, Sophia and Nikki, but Arwulf and I both know who's who.