Kids and social networking: Pros and cons
August 6th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

Kids and social networking: Pros and cons

Post this, comment on that. Social media are a part of the daily routines of many adults and children. And  the identifiable pros and cons of social networking among kids are beginning to emerge, according to a presentation at the American Psychological Association meeting.

"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," said Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and technology researcher.

Rosen says ongoing research and preliminary results of studies suggest a few trends in kids.

On the plus side: In a world full of distractions, social networking and technology can provide tools for teaching in a way that engages and captivates young minds. Online social networking can also help young people learn how to socialize with their peers; users also show more "virtual empathy."

"It's almost like social networks are training wheels for life in a lot of ways - it teaches you to express empathy and see how people respond," Rosen said. "It teaches you to also just develop your sense of self of who you are. You float things out on a wall post on Facebook and then sit back and look at the comments that you get. It's a place where you can grow and develop."

However, the downside is becoming apparent, too. According to studies, middle school, high school and college students looking at Facebook at least one time during a 15-minute study break made lower grades. In addition, many young Facebook users show more tendencies to be narcissistic.

"It's a continual onset of I, me, mine," he said. "Your comments back and forth to people all reflect on you, not them."

The new research suggests that overuse of media and technology can negatively affect health of children and teens, especially with psychological disorders- making users more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

"Everything you do on social networks, you're doing behind the safety of a screen," he said. "You're not paying attention...there's a real flesh and blood human being at the other end of cyberspace and your words might have consequences for that person."

Rosen suggests not having a computer program to monitor the child's social networking behaviors. He says parents who have such programs are wasting their time.

"As soon as you start monitoring your kids electronically, two things are going to happen," he said. "One- they are going to stop trusting you. Two- within five seconds, they'll find a workaround on the Internet to get around whatever electronic device you have installed."

"If you establish trust with your kids, which you do by having discussions with them about technology and about what they're doing, then they will come to you when something comes up that they're uncomfortable with," Rosen said.

But he says parents need to be aware of the latest technologies and trends in websites and applications that kids use.

Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and attending physician at Texas Children's Hospital, writes often about social media.

"As a parent, probably the best thing we can do for our teens is try to provide a solid example of how to balance our personal and our digital lives," Vartabedian said. "I think this technology is all here to stay. It's not going anywhere but the relationship that we share with that technology is something that we can influence and we can influence early on in life."

Vartabedian says it is OK to put software on a computer to monitor social networking. He says parents have a responsibility to know what their kids are doing.

"There will always be ways for kids to get around what we do to watch and listen to them," he said. "But we still have a responsibility as parents to put our best foot forward and openly discuss what's appropriate, online and off."

What are your thoughts?

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