Friends and Facebook

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I am deeply skeptical about the benefits of social networking technology. My recent post on the willingness of people to dump 10 friends from Facebook for a hamburger was about the value of a friend to our youth. I have read two articles by Kari Henley that talk about both sides of this issue. I’ll save the second for another post.

The first article warns against the negative impacts that the development of the brain will be overwhelmed by the experience of constant use of Facebook and other Internet social technologies.

A child’s brain reaches its full size at age six and the gray matter is actually the thickest around age 12. Remember how the world was full of possibilities at that age? Because it truly is. After this stage, the brain begins to prune back gray matter and the phrase “use it or lose it” becomes key as certain brain cells die forever. The skills your child learns during adolescence; like sports, dancing, music or academics become hard wired. Other skills that are not being used will fall away… .

Most kid’s today don’t have a local bowling alley or soda shop to hang out, like the baby boomer generations had. They also aren’t allowed to play outside until the street lights come on as recent generations enjoyed. Hours of skipping rope, climbing trees and building forts is replaced with the tap tapping of tiny keyboards. The cyber playground has replaced the physical one, for better or worse. It is our job as parents to make sure their developing brains know how to do more than move a mouse around a keyboard and encourage more face to face social time.

We won’t know the full effects these technologies have until this young generation leaves high school and makes its way in the world. I harbor a great deal of concern for the reason raised in the excerpt. Our repertoire of responses to the world is built up during the development of the brain, significantly in this period of development, and all though our life. Social skills are a critical part of that repertoire.

But beyond concerns later in adulthood, Henley worries about how parents should interact with their children about Facebook and its ilk. Here’s her advice:

1) Be Involved - Kids will always be ahead of us in technology, so encourage them to show you how to set up a social networking page. This encourages them to share what they know and gives you access to what they are doing.

2) Be a Parent, not a Pal - Insist on knowing user names and passwords of all their social networking accounts. Explain to them it is not to be used to spy, but to have in case they were in some sort of danger.

3) Create a Balance- We want our kids to develop their own identity and become independent. Learn to trust them and allow opportunities for them to explore when it is age appropriate and set clear limits for internet use.

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