In recent articles we alerted parents to the perils of social media with regards to developing eating disorders and even a secret society
that encourages anorexic behavior. Now it appears a new malady is linked to social networking. According to a report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Facebook depression” is yet another risk of staying connected. Shocked? Surprised? Outraged? Read on . . .
One of the pitfalls of adolescence is poor self-esteem. Young adults are constantly comparing themselves to their peers and if they feel they don’t “measure up,” their feelings of self-worth take a crippling blow. It can get even worse when they perceive that all their friends on Facebook are having more fun than they are, judging by status updates or when they see their pals have more “friends” than they do. A common reaction is to withdraw completely and lose interest in even “offline” socializing - or to take desperate measures to try to impress others. Many times this means posting a potentially embarrassing or humiliating status to get attention. The problem with that is that once in cyberspace, comments live forever. Parents are paying attention more than you think.
We hear so much about parents who don’t properly monitor what their children are doing online you’d think we all have our heads in the sand or are still living in the 80s. However, doctors state that many parents approach them because they’re concerned about how invested their children are in social media. That concern is warranted. Cyberbullying
is a very real phenomenon that can have tragic consequences. Children have been driven to suicide because of the gravity associated with an entire population taking a front row seat to their humiliation.
Privacy is a fragile thing these days. YouTube horrors abound as what was once a situation that occurred among friends is now captured with smartphone technology and broadcast to the world. There is no waiting for things to blow over anymore.
Doctors tell us that parent’s ignorance largely determines how much risk their children are exposed to. But is that fair? Not every parent has the technical ability to keep up with the ever-changing Internet landscape. Let’s face it . . . if you were raised with pen and paper and a rotary telephone, the learning curve is steep. But that’s missing the point. Knowing how to upload vacation pictures to Facebook or a funny cheeseburger-loving cat video to YouTube will not keep our children safe. We are at the mercy of a cultural shift that threatens our world in ways we are just now beginning to understand.A popularity contest.
For many teens, interacting on Facebook is like a big popularity contest. Who has the most friends or who is tagged in the most pictures equates with how worthy, or how likeable you are. And if someone doesn’t like you, look out. Snotty messages crop up on walls all the time. This kind of public exposure makes classroom notes and “slam books” look like nursery rhymes.
Right now there is no definitive proof that Facebook depression is linked to using the online site, or if the condition is an extension of an already existing depression
. Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician, states the unique aspects of Facebook make it a particularly tough social landscape for kids to navigate especially if they are already dealing with low self-esteem. “It can be more painful than sitting alone in a crowded school cafeteria or other real-life encounter that can make kids feel down because Facebook provides a skewed view of what’s really going on. Online, there’s no way to see facial expressions or read body language that provide context.”What’s a parent to do?
First of all, parents shouldn’t get all up in arms and automatically make Facebook a forbidden zone for their kids. There are some good things going on. Facebook can strengthen feelings of social connectedness among kids that are well adjusted. It’s not a surefire road to depression.
What parents need to do is understand is that Facebook is the new malt shop, the new corner store. It’s where their kids are hanging out and parents need to be aware of the environment. As with all things, communication and awareness is key. Parents need to help their kids realize that Facebook isn’t real life – just because someone has 933 Facebook friends doesn’t mean they are better liked, or more worthy of love. It just means they know how to send and receive what are often superficial requests.