Kids may face psychological problems

PHOTO: Kids may face psychological problems

New research in the US has it that teens who spend too much time on social networks like Facebook are more likely to show narcissistic tendencies and display signs of other behavioural problems.

Facebook-surfing teens showed more aggression, mania, anxiety, and depression, the study said.

And these issues could lead to worse health problems as they get older.

The findings were presented by DrLarry D. Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, at the 19th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

In a talk last Saturday entitled, Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids, DrRosen explained the potential psychological risks for teens who spend too much time on social networking services.

He said: "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".

While the debate on how much screen-time and technology is appropriate for kids has raged for a long time, it is now getting fresh impetus with the advent of social networking sites, and the ease of their accessibility through mobile devices like phones and iPads.

Excessive use of sites like Facebook can also lead to poorer academic performance: Teenagers who checked social networks at least once during a 15-minute study period, achieved lower grades, scientists found.

In 2009, a US insurance company survey showed that pre-teens and teens aged eight to 18 were engaging with digital media for an average of 71/2 hours a day.

Experts believe this duration may have increased.

Contrast this to the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation of no more than one to two hours of screen-time a day.

Paediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan, author of Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth About What Technology is Doing to Children, said the outlook on child technology use is bleak - and irreversible.

She has been quoted in news reports as saying: "There is absolutely nothing in technology that is developmentally healthy.

"Any time spent in front of a device or with a device is detrimental to child development."

She referred to other studies showing that technology overuse was not only changing brain chemistry, but also increasing the likelihood of children developing mental illnesses.

Human connection, eye contact and dialogue are paramount in a child's development, she explained.

Devices are hugely limiting this important exposure, she said.

She claimed that therapists and clinicians are seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD - all linked to technology overuse.

"I've been working with kids for 25 years, she said. "We're really just witnessing the tip of an iceberg."

Contrary to Ms Rowan's gloom and doom, Dr Rosen is not all negative.

Some positive effects

Some positive effects

His study also found that social networking had some positive effects. Sites like Facebook could help shy young adults socialise and come out of their shell.

The services could be used effectively for interactive learning and helping teenagers empathise with each other, he said.

In the end, he sees innovations like social media as developmental pluses for what he calls the "iGeneration".

"Social networking is really helping them with who they are, their identity in the world," Dr Rosen said of preteens and teens who engage with their peers via social platforms.

Dr Rosen believes that teens are able to test the identity waters, so to speak.

For example, they can practice different forms of sexuality via their web presences and receive feedback from peers.

It allows them to "practice life" somewhat innocuously, he said.

Although he is a proponent for technology integration in modern child-rearing, Dr Rosen said there is the very real possibility of overdoing it.

Many parents believe they're doing a great job raising their child if he is quietly playing video games in his room all day.

That child will lose his communication skills, he said.

"Technology must be chosen correctly."

What should parents do?

Don't buy that software that lets you track and block your kid's Internet use.

"If you feel that you have to use some sort of computer program to surreptitiously monitor your child's social networking, you are wasting your time," Dr Rosen said.

"Your child will find a workaround in minutes."

Set rules and limits on technology - with your child's input.

For example, have a two-minute tech break after 15 minutes of studying.

Get the TV out of the children's bedrooms.

Both Dr Rosen and Ms Rowan advise doing this.

So parents can both monitor the type of content kids are absorbing and limit their usage appropriately.


This article was first published in The New Paper.