Australian teenage girls value friendships more than anything else in their everyday online interactions, with the most sought after identity being the “good girl”.

A Griffith University PhD study of 130 13-year-old Queensland girls’ online habits and participation found that friendship expectations underpin their happiness and contentment, especially at school.

Dr Roberta Thompson from the School of Education and Professional Studies said the girls reported many moments highlighting the value of friendship with other girls.

“The most significant social group outside of close friends was “other girls” and the way girls negotiated their online interaction with this group was markedly different to how they interacted with their close friends.

She said this distinction was significant because it predicted how the girls negotiated and regulated their online interaction and face-to-face experience with “other girls”.

Good girls vs mean girls

The most sought after identity was the “good girl”, someone who was responsible and nice, while the identity to avoid was the “mean girl”.

“These identities were guided by socially prescribed attributes and the girls clearly articulated these versions of girlhood.

“Good girl, mean girl identities coincided with discourses concerned with the rules of conduct for female interaction and were used by the girls to monitor and regulate friendship boundaries and social interactions.”

The girls also had concerns about embarrassment and the need to save face.

“Although presenting with good character was deemed an appropriate process for circumventing embarrassment, it was clear this was not always effective,’’ Dr Thompson said.

Instead, many of the girls described how the rules of conduct were shifted and impressions fabricated to save face. In the heat of the moment, protective identities were fabricated to conceal intentions or to contradict a negative personal impression.

“Being a best friend has protective attribute. Friends were forgiven when misunderstandings happened. But, when embarrassment was a likely outcome (“she stole my boyfriend’’), rejecting the girl as a best friend was a way of saving face.”