Report Says Facebook Can Lead to Depression in Adolescents

Just when you think you've got the whole social media thing covered with your tween or teen, a new tech-related monster rears its ugly head.
April 18, 2011 - PRLog -- Just when you think you've got the whole social media thing covered with your tween or teen, a new tech-related monster rears its ugly head.

As if sexting and cyberbullying weren't enough for parents to worry about, now "Facebook depression" joins the list of things to fret over.

This new phenomenon is identified as depression that kicks in after adolescents spend a lot of time on social media sites, leading to classic symptoms of depression, according to a new report on social media and children released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP ).

Viewing a constant stream on Facebook that includes happy, boasting status updates and photos of your peers having a great time can make kids feel worse about themselves, the Chicago Tribune reports.

"It can be more painful than sitting alone in a crowded school cafeteria or other real-life encounters that can make kids feel down, because Facebook provides a skewed view of what's really going on." Gwenn O'Keeffe, the report's co-author, tells the Tribune. "Online, there's no way to see facial expressions or read body language that provide context."

Kids who suffer from online depression are at risk for social isolation, just as with offline depression, and may turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for "help" -- which may encourage substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices or self-destructive or aggressive behaviors, the researchers say.

This phenomenon is of critical importance in light of the significant increase in the number of kids using social media sites over the last five years. In fact, the study says, social media use is now one of the most common activities of children and adolescents.

Recent statistics show that 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times per day, and more than half of teens log on more than once a day, according to the report. In addition, 75 percent of teens now have cell phones, with 25 percent using them for social media, 54 percent for texting and 24 percent for instant messaging.

With this in mind, the researchers say a "large part of this generation's social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones."

The reports notes that social media can benefit kids, saying it can "enhance communication, facilitate social interaction and help develop technical skills." Social media also can help adolescents identify volunteer opportunities, augment traditional classroom learning methods and even help shape their sense of identity.

"But because tweens and teens have a limited capacity for self-regulation and are susceptible to peer pressure, they are at some risk as they engage in and experiment with social media," the report states.

Tweens and teens can sometimes find themselves on sites and in situations that are not age-appropriate, the authors note, adding that unhealthy offline behaviors frequently find their way online now, with bullying, cliques and sexual experimentation cropping up online as cyberbullying, privacy issues and sexting.

Other problems that can often result from extensive social media use include Internet addiction and sleep deprivation, the researchers note.

"Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep and physical activity," O'Keeffe says in a news release.

O'Keeffe says parents need to understand how their child is using social media so they can set appropriate limits.

And, although many parents are tech savvy and have a presence on many of the same social media sites as their children, some parents may still find it hard to relate to their kids online.

To help families find their way through the social media landscape, the AAP recommends parents do the following:

   * Talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today's online kids face, such as cyberbullying, sexting and difficulty managing their time.

   * Work on their own "participation gap" in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their children are using.

   * Develop a family online-use plan, with an emphasis on citizenship and healthy behavior.

   * Supervise online activities via active participation and communication, not just via monitoring software.

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