Getting help with homework, receiving moral support from friends, connecting with old classmates who moved away—these are all good things that come from Facebook. But parents need to be aware that this social media form has some social drawbacks.
David Blackburn, PhD, Scott & White Clinical Psychologist with 20 years’ experience in the treatment of child and adolescent mental health, says, “I think the connection with friends needs to be made face to face.”
Dr. Blackburn details how Facebook affects teens’ social development and offers guidelines for Facebook use.
“One of the disadvantages of Facebook is that it precludes teens from interacting personally. Because many teens communicate primarily by texting rather than by speaking in person, teens today don’t learn how to react to traditional social cues,” says Dr. Blackburn.
“For example, they may post things on Facebook that are hurtful, but they don’t see the people’s physical responses. As a result, developmentally, teens incur a lot of social deficit. They miss facial expressions—the smile, the frown, the approval or the disapproval of what they’re communicating. They don’t see that they’re offensive. That doesn’t convey because their conversation has all been text,” says Dr. Blackburn.
“If a person has big ears, or is short or fat, or just different, there’s going to be teasing. If a child is very sensitive anyway, they might read much more into a negative comment than was meant. Or, on the other hand, the person who made the malicious comment might deny it and lie about it. With Facebook and the Internet, here’s the problem: There’s no opportunity to sit down and work it out,” says Dr. Blackburn. The damage is done and remains unresolved.
“Many teens today haven’t developed very healthy social skills. They interact primarily with a box. In a recent study in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine,” Dr Blackburn notes, “it was determined that extreme Internet use contributes to depression in otherwise healthy teens. These teenagers often went days or weeks without getting adequate sleep.”
Facebook sets the minimum age to establish an account at 13; however, Dr. Blackburn says some teens even older than that may not have the maturity level to manage a Facebook account: “Not every 13-year-old—or 16-year-old—is mature enough or responsible enough to handle Facebook. The parents must exhibit good judgment in allowing when their children have strong enough decision-making and coping skills to manage a Facebook account,” Dr. Blackburn advises.
To illustrate, “This past summer, Facebook received negative publicity due to ‘a death list’ being posted. In California, one individual kidnapped and tortured his girlfriend after becoming jealous over a conversation she was having with another man via Facebook.”
Areas that require maturity include what to post, comment or share and when to delete, block or report a Facebook “friend.”
Because of the risk of teasing, cyber bullying, and sexual predators on Facebook, Dr. Blackburn recommends that parents follow this set of guidelines when their teens have a Facebook account:
#1—Set Time Limits, as you would set a curfew. Dr. Blackburn suggests one hour for younger teens, perhaps a little longer for older teens, after homework is completed. “It’s unhealthy for any child to be in any activity too long or too much. It’s necessary to enact strict limits on Facebook time. It’s the parents’ responsibility to just turn it off,” says Dr. Blackburn.
“Parents need to remind their children that Facebook is a privilege, not a right,” encourages Dr. Blackburn.
#2—Monitor Facebook. Parents should be educated on what Facebook is all about, Dr. Blackburn advises. “Before they allow their children to have a Facebook account, parents should research Facebook and have the teens research it, and then compare notes and make a joint decision with an agreement of what will be allowed and what will be prohibited. They should draw up a contract with rules and guidelines and determine consequences, both positive and negative, for following the rules,” Dr. Blackburn recommends.
“Parents should check on what is being posted on Facebook, and if the teens break the contract, then there should be consequences,” says Dr. Blackburn.
#3—Set Consequences. “Facebook is an activity, and like all other activities with rules, there are consequences if you don’t follow the rules. For example, you set the rules, and if the child follows the rules for a certain length of time, the time he spends of Facebook can be increased,” Dr. Blackburn suggests.
“Or, on the other hand, if he breaks the rules, his time can be decreased or his account deleted,” says Dr. Blackburn.
“The bottom line I would recommend to any parent: Try to decrease the amount of Internet exposure and increase the amount of face-to-face exposure,” Dr. Blackburn advises.
“I’m a big advocate of little league sports. Kids have to learn how to interact with each other and how to get along—and they get exercise. Today, we have an inordinate number of kids who are missing out on what it means to be a kid,” says Dr. Blackburn.