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How Social Networks Can Both Help And Harm Our Kids

August 8, 2011

A new study has shown that too much social media time on websites such as Facebook may be bad for children.

Larry Rosen, a psychologist at Cal State Dominguez Hills, has been studying the effect of technology on people for more than 25 years. And recently, he has done several studies on how social networking sites such as Facebook affect children.

Speaking Saturday at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., Rosen said teens who spend more time using the Internet and playing video games tended to have more stomach aches, sleeping issues, anxiety, and depression.

Rosen also found in his study that teens who logged onto Facebook constantly were more narcissistic since social networking is exactly what the narcissist seeks out. They can share themselves constantly on their terms using social networking.

“While nobody can deny that Facebook has altered the landscape of social interaction, particularly among young people, we are just now starting to see solid psychological research demonstrating both the positives and the negatives,” Rosen said.

The study: “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” shows both the negative and positive effects social networks have on today’s youth and adults.

Among Rosen’s negative findings:

  • Teens who use Facebook more often show more narcissistic tendencies.
  • Young adults who use Facebook more frequently show more signs of psychological disorders, including antisocial behavior, mania and aggressiveness.
  • Daily overuse of media and technology has a negative effect on health of all children, preteens and teenagers by making them more prone to psychological disorders and future health problems.
  • Preteens, teenagers and young adults have a more difficult time studying for exams because they carry their mobile devices everywhere with them, giving them an out when they are bored with studying.
  • Students who checked their Facebook accounts while studying did worse on exams than those who stayed away from the social network while studying.

There were also some positive findings in Rosen’s study. Those include:

  • Young adults who spend more time on Facebook are better at showing “virtual empathy” to their online friends.
  • Online social networking can help introverted children learn how to socialize behind the safety of their computer or mobile device.

Rosen had advice for parents who have children at home who are constant social networking users. “If you feel that you have to use some sort of computer program to surreptitiously monitor your child’s social networking, you are wasting your time. Your child will find a workaround in a matter of minutes,” he said. “You have to start talking about appropriate technology use early and often and build trust, so that when there is a problem, whether it is being bullied or seeing a disturbing image, your child will talk to you about it.”

He encourages parents to assess their child’s activities on social networking sites, and discuss removing inappropriate content or connections to people who appear problematic. Parents also need to pay attention to online trends and the latest technologies, websites and apps children are using, he added.
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“Communication is the crux of parenting. You need to talk to your kids, or rather, listen to them,” Rosen said. “The ratio of parent listen to parent talk should be at least five-to-one. Talk one minute and listen for five.”

Other forms of social networking that parents also have to contend with are sending and receiving text messages. The average teen sends out more than 2,000 texts per month. Increased texting can lead not only to sleep and concentration issues, but also physical stress, according to experts.

Rosen cited an example of a Chicago teen who developed carpal tunnel syndrome and needed wrist braces and pain medication after sending an average of 100 texts per day.

The reason this form of messaging is so popular is that “kids have been raised on the concept of connection. To them, it’s not the quality that’s important, but the connection itself. Phone or face-to-face conversations allow for a minimal number of connections, while other tools let them connect to the world,” Rosen told the LA Times.

In other words, the return on their investment is much higher when they use communication platforms such as texting, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook alone has more than 750 million active users (more than twice the U.S. population).

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