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Teenagers constantly think that they will never be murdered or kidnapped by anyone, but before they can blink, they watch their life flash before their very eyes.

Unfortunately, this fact does not prevent teens from typing on that keyboard and logging into My Space.

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Young people who use them are getting just as much practice in leadership and social skills and community involvement as they did before the Internet.

Involvement might not take place in the school gymnasium or around the campfire, but instead in online communities in the glow of computer screens." A second study by Danah Boyd, also of Northwestern, examined the way that young people use My, which was recently bought by News Corporation, parent company of The Times and of

"It is about identity production — how I fit into society, who am I, who are the cool teachers in school," she added.

"It's a new forum for hanging out that creates new publics.

Few studies, however, have investigated the effects on young people of the more interactive forms of information technology such as online communities and chat rooms.

Professor Cassell's work has focused on Junior Summit, a closed online community of more than 3,000 10 to 16-year-olds.The Web site, which is the fifth-most viewed in America, allows its 56 million members to create online profiles and correspond with people with similar interests.Boyd found that members, most of whom are teenagers, use the site to develop their identities and to meet friends or form new relationships."There is a perception that young people are spending all their time doing something damaging here, and my research suggests that that is not the case," she said."We have to ask ourselves whether we are continuing to provide the kind of space that young people need to develop social skills," Cassell added.Far from creating an individualistic and self-centered generation that shuns social interaction or community involvement, as many parents and teachers fear, chat rooms and message boards are fostering a new public spirit among young people and helping them to develop their personalities and make friends, scientists say.

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