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Does too much Facebook put kids at higher risk for mental illness?

August 11, 2011
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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For decades kids were told that too much TV would "rot their brains." While the science behind that claim was probably never substantiated, some researchers believe that there's a new culptrit that could be doing a lot more damage than a childhood spent camped out in front of the television set.

Not surprisingly, it's the social media outlets like Facebook that have become the new target. Used properly, these sites can be useful tools, keeping friends and family in touch and allowing businesses to connect with their customers and make them aware of important developments.

However, according to Larry D. Rosen, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, these outlets have "altered the landscape of social interaction," especially for young people. It's an effect, he says, that "nobody can deny."

"We are just now starting to see solid psychological research demonstrating both the positives and the negatives,” Rosen said during his presentation, titled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” at the 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Rosen discussed potential adverse effects, including:

  • Teens who use Facebook more often show more narcissistic tendencies, while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, mania and aggressive tendencies.
  • Daily overuse of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers by making them more prone to anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders, as well as by making them more susceptible to future health problems.
  • Facebook can be distracting and can negatively impact learning. Studies found that middle school, high school and college students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15-minute study period achieved lower grades.

However, Rosen also said the research found positive influences linked to social networking, including:

  • Young adults who spend more time on Facebook are better at showing “virtual empathy” to their online friends.
  • It can help introverted adolescents learn how to socialize behind the safety of various screens, ranging from a two-inch smartphone to a 17-inch laptop.
  • It can provide tools for teaching in compelling ways that engage young students.

Rosen is one of many mental health professionals weighing in on the potential consequences of social media, and whether they outweigh the perceived benefits.

But, the question is likely to remain. Is Facebook only introducing kids and teenagers to a threat equal to what television has for years, or is there more to it? And do we really need to monitor this issue a lot more closely?

Tell us what you think.



A few years ago, I asked a 15 year old who was hospitalized on my inpatient unit, why she preferred to text vs. talking to people directly? Her answer was that seeing the individual's facial reactions or hearing the tone of their voice was "distracting" to her. She could say what she wanted by texting or writing out her thoughts. Her response, lead to my own questioning: does too much texting or on-line time creates a type of "aspersers" syndrome - a deficit in reading social-emotional cues? My client didn't want the confusion of visual and auditory cues - she didn't want to engage an empathic response because it was "easier."

The question of which comes first the chicken or the egg will always be present. However, Thoughts are present before the manifestation of things - the blue print is created before the construction begins.

There is new research coming out talks about EMF's and brain stimulation. I recommend to my clients to avoid TV or the Computer - 1 to 2 hours before bedtime because of it's stimulation factor. No matter what the age, if we get over stimulated, it is difficult to get adequate sleep.

I agree with a previous comment - Moderation in All things is important. Ideally, this modeling of moderation begins in the home and by myself. I never liked my parents' "do as I say, not as I do" attitude, so I work at modeling all of the suggestions I give - at times easier said then done.

Bunny B. Czarnopys, LSCSW, LCMFT, LCAC

Too much _____ (something people love) puts you at higher risk for ______ ( something scary and negative). You're right... the perpetuation of this type of propagandous social media will increase the risk that we encounter emotional difficulty. This article feeds it with contradictory speculation.

How about everything in moderation... INCLUDING MODERATION.

It is likely that narcissism, mania, and other psychological problems listed propelled teens to use facebook more often, rather than facebook being the cause of these difficulties.

Nick Zubko

Associate Editor

Nick Zubko


Nick Zubko is associate editor of Behavioral Healthcare.

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