Who doesn’t know what Facebook and Twitter are these days? The two social networking sites have changed the way we communicate. While the purpose was to reconnect with old friends and connect with new people, too much time on these sites may actually do more harm than good.
The American Psychological Association just had its annual convention. Among the speakers was Psychologist Larry Rosen, who has been studying the effect of technology on people for more than 25 years. His most recent studies took a look at how social networking sites affect children, and Rosen presented his findings at the conference.
Rosen found that teens who use more technology (such as video games or the Internet) miss more school and tend to have more stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression. When it comes to mental health, teens and young adults who log onto Facebook all the time develop a narcissistic personality. After all, Facebook provides a forum for people to share information about themselves around the clock, and having that captive audience can be quite addicting. Additionally, the more time that people spent time on Facebook, the more likely they were to have antisocial personality disorder, paranoia and alcohol use.
Not surprisingly, social media also appears to be shortening attention spans. Rosen observed students of all ages for 15-minute intervals and found that most were only able to focus for two to three minutes before turning their attention to something unrelated to their studies (most often a text message or mobile phone application). Students who checked their Facebook while studying performed worse than students who did not.
So what is a parent, teacher or guardian to do? If at all possible, keep the lines of communication open. Just like you have a discussion with your child about drugs or alcohol, you can also talk about technology. It’s important to ask questions and learn how your child interacts online and how much time is spent online. Also, just like you might censor a child’s inappropriate outfits before he or she goes out, try to censor what they say online. Discuss what information is appropriate to share, the issues surrounding cyber bullying and how anything written on the Internet becomes a permanent, public record. Try to encourage more face time with your child and his or her friends. It can be a study group with no distractions, going out to eat, or enjoying a physical activity outdoors. And while this may sound obvious, it’s important to lead by example. If you’re always checking your blackberry or downloading applications for your iPhone, your child is going to pick up on that and copy that behavior.
Technology has certainly provided amazing advances in a short amount of time. But, as most things in life, it’s important that people don’t overuse the technology. There is a fine line between incorporating technology into your life or your child’s life to enhance it, and having it completely overtake your existence.
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