When it comes to teens and their social media habits, there's some great news and some not-so-great news. It can make your child a fast learner, but it is also associated with a host of psychological disorders.
The findings, part of a presentation on the effects of social media at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, were all culled from recent research by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., psychology professor at California State University.
For teens, social networking is much like "training wheels for life," Rosen told The Huffington Post. They post information and see how others react to it, learning as they go. One major benefit of this is that social networking can help shy teens become more comfortable and outgoing.
"Everybody knows that what you write is public, but because there's a screen in front of you, you feel somewhat anonymous," Rosen said.
Facebook can also have a positive impact on young adults' lives by helping them be more empathetic, Rosen says. His research shows people who engage in more Facebook activities -- more status updates, more photo uploads, more "likes" -- also display more virtual empathy. If someone posts he had a difficult day, and you post a comment saying, "Call me if you need anything," you've just displayed virtual empathy. Even better, Rosen's preliminary research suggests this could also translate into empathy in the real world.
Of course, it's not all positive news. Among other findings, Rosen discovered a relationship between heavy Facebook use and narcissism in teens. In another of Rosen's studies, students who frequently checked Facebook during study sessions also reported lower grades.
In order to minimize the negative effects, he emphasizes that parents talk to their kids about technology use at an early age and developed the acronym T.A.L.K. to help parents get that conversation started.
How early is early? Perhaps when they're still in diapers. "If you're going to give a 1-year-old an iPad to play with, you talk at that developmental level, about playing with a computer vs. playing with a toy. You try to continue this discussion at every developmental phase."
Rosen details more of his research in his forthcoming book, set for a 2012 release.
"Facebook is seven years old. We're not talking about an established media form ... we're talking about something that's very new," Rosen said. "People are starting to investigate how people use these technologies for good and bad."
How Does Social Networking Affect Our Kids?
Though Facebook use doesn't necessarily cause narcissism, Rosen said it can exacerbate already-existing symptoms. "It provides the opportunity to say what you want with no one seeing you." For example, if someone prone to narcissistic behavior posts a status, and 20 people respond with their comments, the problem is perpetuated. Photo credit (All Photos): Thinkstock
Children who use more overall media can have problems with depression and anxiety, according to Rosen's research. In his 2009 study, parents who reported their 4 to 8-year-olds used many different forms of media -- including the Internet, music and videos games -- also said their children had more psychological problems. The study accounted for other contributing factors.
Facebook use can be a distraction during study sessions and harm teens' grades -- go figure, right? But Rosen says there's a way around this. He calls them "tech breaks." Study for 10 minutes, then take a short break to check your email, Facebook or text messages. Then focus on studying for another 10 minutes, and so on. "It's a different form of moderation -- it's moderation but knowing why you're having to moderate: because it's going to negatively impact you."
When a friend posts a Facebook status saying they've had a bad day, and you reply with a confidence-boosting comment, you've just practiced virtual empathy. But does this translate to real-life empathy? Preliminary research says yes, according to Rosen, but more research needs to be done in this area.
Facebook can help shy teens come out of their shells, Rosen says. "They literally get to practice. They get to say 'I like something you said' ... and it's done in a pseudo-safe environment. This makes them feel capable of saying things they'd never say face-to-face." Of course, on the flip side there are problems with cyber-bullying, which is why Rosen reinforces the idea of parental involvement in teens' social media use.
Rosen says if "given the opportunity to do multiple tasks within the same timeframe, younger people often opt to do more," something he calls "task switching" (as opposed to multitasking). They've grown up with technology and are used to doing several things at once. They're also more likely to do more difficult kinds of task switching, such as reading and playing video games. This isn't necessarily a good idea. Rosen said kids need to be taught when task switching is okay and when it can become a problem.