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Facebook: Friend or foe?
Children whose parents do not ask them about their online activities and do not
monitor their use of Facebook are less healthy, more narcissistic, and perform worse at
school than children whose parents restrict their technology use, Larry D. Rosen, PhD,
professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, said.
In his research on how Facebook and other technologies affect the health and wellbeing of todays youth, Rosen has found that students who use Facebook more throughout
the day are more prone to mental health problems, have worse grades and tend to be sick
more often than peers who use social media less frequently.
Young kids look at technology the way I look at air, said Rosen. Its not just a tool
to them, they sleep with it, they wake up with it, and its part of their world.
In one as-yet-unpublished study he conducted this year, Rosen observed the study
habits of 279 middle school, high school and university students in 15-minute blocks. Rosen
recorded how long each student spent studying before he or she checked Facebook or
paused to send a text message to a friend. Students who flipped back and forth between
studying and such distractions had worse grades than those who stuck to their schoolwork
until they were finished, said Rosen.
Whether they checked Facebook just one time during a 15-minute observation
period even predicted worse grades, said Rosen.
In another study, conducted in 2009, Rosen surveyed 1,000 parents about how much
time their kids spent online, their eating habits, exercise routine, overall physical and mental


health and use of other technology, such as video gaming systems. Rosen
found that even when he accounted for demographics, eating habits and lack of exercise,
media and technology still had a powerful effect on the childrens health.
Those who used more hours of media were unhealthier across the board, from
elementary school age through high school, said Rosen. They reported more sick days, more
stomachaches, more depression and worse behavior in school. You name it, [they had]
more of it, he said.
To see whether social media had a similar effect on mental health, Rosen conducted
a follow-up study this year to look at whether frequent use, especially of Facebook, could
predict signs and symptoms of personality disorders among young users. His preliminary
findings show that frequent Facebook use among teens correlates only with narcissism, but
for young adults, it correlates with signs of many disorders, including narcissism, antisocial
personality disorder, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Despite such evidence, Rosen a fan of Facebook himself said he believes that
there are positive aspects to social media use among youth. In 2011, he and colleagues
found that young adults who spend more time on Facebook than their peers are also better
at showing virtual empathy to their online friends and that such online empathy predicts
real-world empathy.
There even appears, statistically, to be a causal link there, that they are practicing it
to put the real-world empathy out there, said Rosen. The more time they spend
interacting, sharing and connecting online, the more real-world empathy they have.
Parenting style is what can make the difference between too much Facebook and just
the right amount, added Rosen. In a 2008 study, he found that when parents use an
authoritative style establishing firm rules about online use, setting clear limits and talking
about possible negative consequences in advance- their children tend to use the Internet in
moderation and have more self-esteem and less depression than peers with parents who are
not as rules-oriented.
We cant simply assume that we can trust what [our children] are doing, he said.
We also cant go the other way and attach software to their computers that monitors their
keystrokes. Most kids could figure that out in five minutes.
Instead, parents should assess their childs activities on social networking sites, and
discuss removing inappropriate content or connections to people who appear problematic.
Parents also need to pay attention to the online trends and the latest technologies, websites
and applications children area using, he said.
You need to talk to your kids, or rather, listen to them, Rosen said. Talk one
minute and listen for five.
(Monitor on Psychology, v.42, n 9)