Social Media Use Can Lead to Mental Health Problems

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Social media present risks and benefits to children who use them, but parents who secretly monitor their children’s activity on networking sites are wasting their time – that they should have started talking to their kids about internet use when they were youngsters and they used their very first technology. These are the conclusions of Larry D. Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University Dominquez Hills who has researched children’s use of technology, which he presented at last week’s meeting of the American Psychological Association.

In a talked entitled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Children,” Rosen said  teenagers who use the social networking websites often show more narcissist tendencies, while young adults, who are older than teenagers and have a strong Facebook presence, show more signs of other psychological disorders, including aggressive tendencies, mania and some antisocial behaviors.

Rosen said daily overuse of various forms of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers, which, in turn, makes them more prone to psychological disorders like anxiety, depression and others, which also makes them more likely to have further health problems as they grow older.

Many college students agree that Facebook is distracting and can negatively impact learning. A study conducted by Rosen and two other researchers showed that middle and high school students, as well as college students, who checked their Facebook accounts at least one time during a 15-minute study period, achieved lower grades than those who did not check their Facebook during the same time frame.

However, aside from the negative effects of social networks, Rosen said they also have some positive impacts.

Young adults who spend more time on Facebook are often better at showing “virtual empathy” to their online friends. Social networking can also provide vital tools for teaching in ways that engage young students, more so than using other traditional methods. Another benefit of the websites is that they can help adolescents who are more introverted learn how to socialize behind the safety net of the various screens -- television and computer monitors and cell phones.

Other results of Rosen’s research include a correlation between virtual and real-world empathy. Although they are not the same, they do seem to be related, Rosen said. When people have more virtual empathy and real-world empathy, they tend to receive more social support in comparison with those that do not. Those that tend to spend more time playing video games often times demonstrate less real-world empathy than those who spend less time playing video games.

The most positive predictors of virtual empathy include the time that people spend on Facebook and the time they spend instant messaging others while on the website, Rosen said.

A study of students studying showed that, on average, students lose focus on studying about every three minutes.

According to a Wakefield Research Study, 73 percent of college students cannot study without some form of technology present, and 38 percent cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking their phone, computer, or other related forms of technology.

Parents, however, hold the keys to impacting children’s behavior online.

Rosen insists that it is all about parenting, “we need to recognize that just as we start to talk to our children about safety at an early age and teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, we need to start talking about online safety as soon as they start to use any technologies. When you give that 2-year-old an iPad to play with, you need to start discussing their ‘cyber world.’ As they grow older, the talks should continue at their developmental level so that by the time they are teenagers they trust you and will talk to you if any safety issues arise.”

During his speech Rosen noted that parents who are more authoritative tend to have children who behave better while online, are less addicted to the internet, have higher levels of self-esteem, less depression, and often are more highly supervised. Parents can develop the authoritative style by setting rules and limiting their children’s use of technology, asking their children (or students) for their thoughts and perspective about these rules and limits and setting consequences for disobeying the rules in advance.