Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites are a godsend to kids and teens who want to get in touch and know what is going on with their friends or relatives. By just opening a website, they can communicate with and learn about all the people who are important to them (at least those who are signed in to the same network).
But like many things that people are passionate about, there are detractors to social networking. When it comes to kids and teens, an Oxford University study argues that social networking has bad effects on the kids' intelligence - and the damage could be long-term and irrevocable. On the other hand, defenders are quick to point out that kids on social networking are increasing their social interaction while wiring their brains to adapt to new technology.
BAD EFFECTS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING ON KIDS
Baroness Susan Greenfield , a top neuroscientist of the Oxford University warns about the lifelong effects of too much social networking:
- Facebook and other networking sites “are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a short attention span and live for the moment”. There is hardly any concentration skills required in participating in these social networking sites, and these train the brain to have poor attention span.
- Kids are detracted from learning to communicate in the real world. There are reports from teachers that social networking is affecting kids’ comprehension levels. Also, if kids communicate primarily through the screen they do not learn the subtleties of real life communication - such as body language, tone of voice, and subconsciously sensing the molecules that other people release.
- Social networking sites make kids more self-centered. Since Facebook and other sites give kids their own page which is about them, it leads some vulnerable kids to think that everything revolves around them, a precursor for emotional problems in their later life. This might also result in inability to empathize.
- These sites make kids prone to sensationalism.
- Pedriatricians observe that some teens suffer from "Facebook depression". After spending a lot of time on Facebook and other popular social networking sites, some teens become anxious and moody. Also, a vulnerable teen may suffer from depression when he reads great things happening to his friends, and his life is not so great in comparison. Teens who experience "Facebook depression" usually have trouble with social interactions in general, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Other educators also note the following:
- For kids and teens in social networks, there are no spelling and grammar rules. In fact it is cool to misspell and not make sense. Less sophisticated children will find it hard to differentiate between social networking communication and real world communication. In fact many teachers are complaining that social networking communication with misspellings and lack of grammar are seeping through student’s school writings.
- Screen relationships detract from spending time in real life relationships.
- Social networks are fertile grounds for bad influencers and anonymous venoms and hunting grounds for deviants and other predators.
- For kids who crave attention, Facebook and other social network becomes a venue for them to act out. These kids may make inappropriate statements, pictures and videos that could ultimately harm them. Also, posts and materials that are published online tend to be permanent and may haunt them in the future.
- A study by Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University concludes that extended use of social networks like Facebook can result in a decrease in empathy among teens, and thus an increase in narcissism.
- Young people who have a history of harming themselves or attempting suicide might be particularly vulnerable to negative messages posted online, new research shows. The new review, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, found that kids and young adults who have thoughts of self-harm or suicide actually spend more time on the Internet and are more often victims of cyberbullying than their peers who do not have such thoughts.
GOOD EFFECTS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING ON KIDS
On the other hand, other experts like the MacArthur Foundation see it differently. They claim that kids and teens are developing important technical and social skills online in ways that adults do not understand or value:
- Mizuko Ito of the University of California states that “spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age”. Kids are learning basic social and technical skills to fully participate in modern society. Kids learn to adapt to permanent and public socializing and managing elaborate network of friends and acquaintances.
- Social networking makes kids more peer-based. Young people are motivated to learn from their peers online. They interact and receive feedback from one another. They are motivated to learn more from each other than from adults. Teachers and adults are no longer the only sources of knowledge.
- It makes kids more networked than ever. It is easier for kids to make friends with people all over the world, most of whom they will never ever meet without these technological advances.
- Kids communicate and interact more than ever.
- Social networks actually make kids more relationship-oriented, considerate, and emphatic. Kids remember people’s birthday and greet them. They comment on pictures, videos and status of their friends. They create longer term friendships by being in touch online even when friends are no longer physically meeting.
- Professor Larry Rosen notes that teens are developing the ability to show virtual empathy for distressed Facebook friends and that the empathy is actually well-received by friends, positively influencing their mood. This virtual empathy, he says, can even spill over into the real world, teaching teens how to empathize with others in everyday life.
HOW PARENTS CAN MAKE THE MOST OF KIDS SOCIAL NETWORKING
- Encourage your kid to spend more time – considerably more time – in actual communication than “social networking communication”.
- Tell your kid to spend more time in real-life friendships and activities - Real face-to-face interaction is deeper and warmer than online friendships. Your kid learn more social skills in relating to and having face-to-face communication with his friends. Online friendships does not teach your kid to listen to subtle vocal cues, interpret body language, and adapt to different personalities - skills that are often important to survive in the real world.
- Encourage your child's other passion or interest - Instead of constantly telling your kid to stop going online, discover his other interests and nurture them. Examples of these are sports, playing a musical instrument, writing, crafts, etc. Support him when he is engaged on non-online activities that he is passionate about.
- Suggest to your kid to take advantage of social networking to enhance learning, to collaborate with fellow students, not just for “hanging out” and spewing nonsense. Teach your kid to differentiate between what has substance, and what is mere trash. You should also warn him not to engage in the darker side of social networking like cyberbullying, stalking, sharing inappropriate materials, etc.
- If possible, supervise your kid’s online activity to protect him from online predators and other dangers - Do not be deceived that your kid is online because of school research and studying. You should be constantly aware of what your kid does online or what he does in front of the computer.
- Emphasize to your kid the difference between real-life and online relationships - Having 500 friends in Facebook, for example, does not necessarily mean that he is popular.
- Emphasize to your kids the difference between writing and spelling for social networking and real world writing.
- As in everything, use social networking in moderation. It cannot take the place of real-life relationships and other worthwhile pursuits like reading books and sports.
- At an age when your kid can easily fall prey to bad online influences, have the computer screen readily visible to you by putting the computer in a place where you regularly pass by. Do not position it on a hidden corner or angle.
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