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Too much Facebook time may be unhealthy for kids [Updated]

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August 06, 2011|By Daniela Hernandez, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • The more time kids and teens spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to suffer from ailments such as personality disorder, paranoia, anxiety and alcohol use.
The more time kids and teens spent on Facebook, the more likely they were… (Kainaz Amaria/Bloomberg )

Facebook is great for reconnecting with old friends from high school and college. But for those still in school, the popular networking site could do more harm than good.

That’s according to Larry Rosen, a psychologist at Cal State Dominguez Hills who’s been studying the effect of technology on people for more than 25 years. Recently, he’s done several studies on how the social networking site affects children. He made his case Saturday at the American Psychological Assn.’s annual convention in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Here’s some of what he had to say:    

  • Teens who use more technology, like video games or the Internet, tended to have more stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression, and they often missed more school, he found.     
  • Teens and young adults who logged onto Facebook constantly were more narcissistic. The social network feeds into a narcissist’s M.O. perfectly by allowing people to broadcast themselves 24/7 on their own terms, Rosen says. Among users of all ages, the more people used Facebook, the more likely they were to have antisocial personality disorder, paranoia and anxiety.    
  • When Rosen and his colleagues observed middle school, high school and college students for 15 minutes while they studied for an exam, they found that most students were only able to focus for two to three minutes before turning their attention to less scholarly matters, like text messages or mobile phone aps. Not surprisingly, the students who checked Facebook while studying did worse on their exams than those who didn’t.
[For The Record, 8:02 a.m., Aug. 9: An earlier version of this post stated that researcher Larry Rosen found that, among users of all ages, using Facebook more was associated with having a higher risk of antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, anxiety and alcohol use. Alcohol use was not part of that list.]

Parents also have to contend with other forms of social networking, like sending and receiving text messages. The average teenager sends out more than 2,000 texts per month. This is an overwhelming amount of information that can lead not only to problems with sleep and concentration, but also physical stress, according to experts. Rosen cited the example of a Chicago teenager who developed carpal tunnel syndrome and needed wrist braces and pain medication last year after sending an average of more than 100 texts per day.  

The reason this form of messaging is so popular, said Rosen, is that “kids have been raised on the concept of connection. To them, it’s not the quality that’s important, but the connection itself. Phone or face-to-face conversations allow for a minimal number of connections, while other tools let them connect to the world.”

In other words, the return on their investment is much higher when they communicate via platforms like texts, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has more than 750 million active users (more than twice the U.S. population) and Twitter boasts more than 175 million tweeters.

Parents should have constant, open conversations with their kids about how they are using technology, Rosen says. They need to ask questions and listen without making judgments so kids feel comfortable discussing how they behave with other kids online. This could make children more cognizant that what they say online can hurt other people. 

This point is especially important in light of the rise in cyberbullying. Unlike bullying at school, bullying online can happen at any time of day and can follow kids into previously safe spaces, like their homes or bedrooms. It also happens in front of much larger audiences, which can compound the amount of stress and anxiety kids feel. 

Social media’s not all bad news, however. Because these platforms encourage communication, “social networks can also help kids to practice life behind a safety curtain,” Rosen said in an interview. They can share tidbits about themselves, practice being empathetic and interact with their friends without having to deal with other people’s reactions right away. For shy kids, this could be a real plus and a way to bring them out of their shells, he adds.

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