Teenagers get sick of “old folks” telling them Facebook is a bad influence. They’re right, in part. Social networking sites keep teens connected to friends, give shy kids a shot at a social life, encourage teens to show empathy, and help teens express themselves.
Studies back up these assertions. A study of 2,603 undergraduate college students in Texas found a positive correlation between Facebook use and young people’s life satisfaction, social trust, civic engagement and political participation.
But the reports aren’t all so positive. Research also suggests that Facebook is taking a toll on teen mental health.
Professor of psychology at California State University, Dr. Larry Rosen, has found that teens who spend a significant amount of time on Facebook show more aggression, depression, anxiety, narcissism, low self-esteem and antisocial behavior than other teens. These mental health disorders tend to become more severe as teens grow into young adults. Dr. Rosen’s research also shows that Facebook can impact teens’ schoolwork, resulting in lower grades and test scores.
Critics point out the small sample sizes and lack of replication involved in the research, and question whether Facebook causes teen mental health problems or troubled teens are more drawn to social networking sites in general.
Help Your Teen Use Technology Responsibly
Whether or not you believe that Facebook is contributing to the declining mental health of American adolescents, it is always wise to teach and model responsible technology use.
Talk to Your Teen. Installing software designed to let you spy on your teen’s online activities isn’t the most effective way to address the problem. Most kids will find a workaround, but more importantly, you’d miss out on an opportunity to talk to your child about responsible Internet use. By talking openly with your child, you can educate your child, share your values, and make sure they know that you are a trusted resource if they are ever cyber-bullied, contacted by a stranger or stumble across a disturbing image online.
Set Limits on Screen Time. Teens need access to computers to do their homework and communicate with friends. But without limits, there’s a good chance they’ll put Facebooking before schoolwork and family time. Finding the right balance requires input from your child and perhaps a behavioral contract that lays out expectations and consequences. For example, your teen may not be permitted to use Facebook until their homework is done. Or they may be able to take short breaks from studying every hour or two to get online or watch television.
Be a Role Model. These days parents are enjoying the enhanced communication that Facebook offers right alongside their kids. And why not? Social relationships are the foundation of our lives. If you’re using Facebook and other forms of technology, make sure you’re modeling the same behaviors you expect of your teen.
As with all forms of technology, including cell phones, iPads, television and music players, Facebook has the potential to both enhance and detract from our lives. Although it is only a few years old, chances are it is here to stay. So if you let your teen enjoy the positives of Facebook, make sure they’re equally aware of the negatives and take steps to keep social networking in its proper place – after homework, family, exercise and other responsibilities have been fulfilled.