Social Media Confuses, Concerns Parents

As many of you know I spend a lot of time discussing the issues of TV, computer, cell phone use by our children. Below is short version of article published in “Pediatric news”. Different opinions are reviewed. Decide for yourself…

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Time and again, parents come to Dr. Michael Rich overwhelmed by the role that texting, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are playing in the lives of their children and adolescents.

“Most parents are coming with no idea or fairly misinformed ideas about what these media are,” said Dr. Rich, director of the center on media and child health at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Some report that their daughter is losing sleep and failing in school because she stays up until 2 or 3 a.m. texting her friends.

Others tell him that their son has becoming increasingly violent and disrespectful since playing war games online with friends and perfect strangers.

Still others inform him that their child has been cyberbullied by a classmate and refuses to attend school.

According to a 2009 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people aged 8–18 years spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes each day with TV, video games, or computers, an increase of 1 hour and 17 minutes over the average in 2004. In addition, 66% of these youngsters own a cell phone (on which they text or talk for another 2 hours each day), 76% of them have an iPod or other media player, and 74% of kids in grades 7–12 say they have a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook.

What about the long-term effects of social media on the development and behavior of today’s children and adolescents? Experts interviewed for this story say there is no way to tell for sure what kind of impact routine use of social media will have on current children and adolescents as they become adults.

But one thing’s for sure, said Dr. Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist who directs the Institute for the Future of the Mind at the Oxford Martin School, Oxford (England) University: “It’s a given that it will affect the brain, because the human brain adapts to whatever environment it’s placed in.

Some experts suggest that social media are having a certain benefit on the smarts of youngsters. In his 2005 book “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter” (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), author Steven Johnson notes that IQ scores have improved in several different countries around the world in recent years, likely because youngsters are rehearsing the kind of skills required for IQ tests when they play computer games.

However, Dr. Shifrin pointed out that other research has shown that frequent exposure to videos and other screen-based media slows down language acquisition in toddlers.

For some families  social media eat into quality time together, said Dr. O’Keeffe.”

Dr. Greenfield is concerned that children and adolescents who spend too much time on social media may be compromising the proper development of certain cognitive skills. “We know that people are getting good at processing information very quickly and efficiently – the kind of skills you have when you’re driving,” she said. “What we’re talking about is turning yourself into kind of a computer in a way: making efficient and fast responses as appropriate. This is very different from reading a book, which is very linear and slow. That’s what the brain needs to understand something usually; you don’t want to have it diluted and distracted, because the brain only has so much power. If it’s being employed in attending to lots of different things, it’s not going to be able to pursue a linear train of thought.”

The result, Dr. Greenfield offered, “could be an infantilizing of the brain, that we are going to create a generation of Peter Pans who live in a world that is a literal one, dominated by sensory content over cognitive significance, a world where what you see is what you get.”

Much of the onus is on parents, Dr. Rich said, to learn how social media work and to help their kids become good citizens of the digital world. “You can’t afford to check out because you don’t know the digital world.  We have a responsibility to parent in the digital domain, because our kids are spending most of their time there.” Dr. Michael Rich said, “Social media fundamentally alter how we interact with other people. When you see two kids who are sitting at a table together texting each other, it’s a very different dynamic than if they were actually talking to each other.”

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