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Social Networking and Child Development - 2. Benefits and Limitations of Social Networking

Studies that evaluate the influence of blogs on student attitudes, behaviors, and motivation have yet to emerge. However, these benefits can be anticipated.


  • (1) When children get to share their impressions, reciprocal learning can occur.
  • (2) There may be a sense of assurance in confirming personal views are shared.
  • (3) Friendly dialogues and debates are welcomed by teens whose conversations with adults may offer little opportunity to express opinions and challenge logic.
  • (4) Communicating with age mates from other backgrounds yields appreciation for cultural diversity that may not be represented at the school students attend.

Rules for bloggers have begun to appear as standards that guide online behavior with the same sense of responsibility and accountability people have for face-to-face behavior. The following guidelines for online users support civil dialogue and safety.


  • (1) Do not share personal or private information.
  • (2) Do not harass or threaten others.
  • (3) Do not cyberstalk, spam, or send unwanted messages to anyone.
  • (4) Do not insult other races, cultures, genders, sexual lifestyles, or religions.
  • (5) Do not post, transmit or facilitate distribution of any obscene, sexually explicit, vulgar, pornographic, ethnically offensive or untrue content.
  • (6) Do not solicit sexually explicit photographs or text.
  • (7) Do not post or transmit photographic violent images of youth.
  • (8) Do not disrupt flow of blogs with abuse, repetitive posts, and off-topic content.
  • (9) Do not impersonate anyone.
  • (10) Do not steal a password, account data, or other information from anyone.
  • (11) Do not post copyrighted material or material created by others without direct permission and authorizations.
  • (12) Do not post advertising or solicitations having to do with goods and services.
  • (13) Do not include URLs for outside sites that violate any of these rules.
  • (14) Do not post anything considered inappropriate.

The Center for the Digital Future (2011) located at University of Southern California surveys 2,000 households each year to find out how online technology affects the lives of Internet users. Findings in the latest annual report show social networks are increasing and a majority of users report feeling as strongly about their communities online as their real-world communities. In fact, 75% report participating in communities related to social causes on the Internet. Nearly 90% are involved in social causes that are new to them since their involvement with online communities. The growth of online communities is creating a range of new sources for positive social change that was not anticipated only a few years ago.

In addition to the advantages of social networks, some disadvantages also deserve consideration. A majority of the parents responding to the Center for the Digital Future Project (2011) annual survey expressed discomfort about the increasing amount of time their children spent in online communities because they observed that this takes away from time that should be spent doing things with the family.

Excessive Texting

Texting while driving a car is seen as a dangerous form of multitasking for teenagers. Additional hazards may also be related to excessive involvement with texting. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, surveyed 4,200 high school students to determine the association between use of communications technology and health behaviors (Frank, 2010). Results indicated excessive users of texting and social networking are much more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. Being hyper-texters, defined as texting 120 or more messages in a school day was reported by 20% of the teenagers, many of whom were female, minority, low income, and did not have a father present at home. Survey outcomes showed that hyper-texters are: 40% more likely to have tried cigarettes than those who spend less time texting; 43% more likely to be binge drinkers; 41% more likely to engage in substance abuse; 55% more likely to have been in a physical fight; 3.5 times more likely to have had sex; and 90% more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners.

These surprising findings suggest that, when texting and other forms of staying connected are not monitored by adults, there could be adverse health effects. According to lead investigator, Scott Frank (2010), "The results should be a wake-up call for parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting while driving, but by discouraging excessive use of a cell phone or social web sites in general."

Excessive Social Networking

Adolescents who participate in hyper-networking, defined as spending three hours or more each day on social networking sites, is also risky. Of the teenagers surveyed, about 12% reported spending over three hours a day social networking. This subpopulation were found to be: 62% more likely to have tried cigarettes; 70% more likely to have tried alcohol; 69% more likely to have used illicit drugs; 94% more likely to have been in a physical fight; 69% more likely to have had sex; and 60% more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners. The study did not conclude that avid texting and networking cause unhealthy behavior but confirmed these behaviors are associated (Frank, 2010).

Social Network Improvement

Robert Epstein (2007), in his book called The Case Against Adolescence, argues against blaming brain development as the primary cause for foolish risks taken by many adolescents. He suggests that, instead of tracing poor judgment to a delayed rate of brain growth in the frontal cortex, more attention should be placed on the 24/7 immersion within a peer culture facilitated by cell phones and the Internet. Many youth are in contact with friends 70 hours a week but may lack meaningful contact with the important adults in their lives. Some spend only brief periods with parents and often it is time watching television, eating, or checking in by phone. Epstein argues that adolescents are infantilized by our culture, causing isolation from adults and motivating them to communicate almost entirely with their peers.

A potentially powerful solution is to increase the amount of time students spend with relatives, allowing them to join life in the adult world in as many ways as possible. However, this shift requires adults to have a different way of looking at youth, recognizing their capabilities and nurturing talents. More contact with trustworthy adults online and in person along with increasing responsibility is necessary to replace what is often becoming a strictly peer-driven communication environment (R. Strom & Strom, 2011). The trajectory for mutually beneficial relationships between adults and adolescents requires sustained interaction rather than permitting the Internet social sites limited to peers to substitute for dialogue within families. This need is illustrated by a three-generational study in Taiwan. A sample consisting of 116 grandmothers were asked how often they were in communication with their 116 adolescent granddaughters using any electronic medium. The answer given by 95% of grandmothers was "Never" (R. Strom, Lee, Strom, Nakagawa, & Beckert, 2008).

Finding ways to improve social networking of children should be assigned high priority by every city and town. Here are some possibilities for consideration:


  • - Partnerships between schools and businesses to help explore careers
  • - Students post recreational reading reactions for classmate consideration
  • - Indigenous mentors answer student questions on aspects of their culture
  • - A question and answer site on using the Internet to improve schoolwork
  • - Enabling students learning a language to practice interacting with others
  • - Have parents help their children create profiles to go on social network
  • - Peer counseling as a source of guidance regarding concerns at school
  • - A polling site where students inform adults about their specific concerns
  • - Pen pals across national boundaries through matching mutual interests
  • - A support group for children facing similar challenges led by counselors
  • - School chat rooms by grade level for students monitored by counselors
  • - A site with volunteer options for children often excluded because of age
  • - A place for children to display drawings or pictures and obtain feedback
  • - A site to upload/download music from peers within the same age group
  • - Establish an online book club where children share literature they read

In conclusion, there are many complaints about lack of etiquette in use of technology. However, the number of people listening to youth has risen because of cell phones and the Internet. On the other hand, periodic phone calls to check in with parents should not become a substitute for face-to-face conversations with adults to discuss things that really matter. Social networking should become a priority for all families, schools, and communities to unite in creative initiatives that support healthy child and adolescent development (P. Strom & Strom, 2009).

References

Center for the Digital Future (2011). 2011 Annual report. University of Southern California Annenberg School, Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved February 5, 2012, from http://www.digitalcenter.org/

Epstein, R. (2007). The case against adolescence: Rediscovering the adult in every teen. Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books.

Frank, S. (2010, November 9). Hyper-texting and hyper-networking linked to teen sex, drug use. Presentation to the American Public Health Association Annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Strom, P., & Strom, R. (2009). Adolescents in the Internet age. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Strom, R., & Strom, S. (2011). A paradigm for intergenerational learning. In London, M. (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of lifelong learning (pp. 133-146). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Strom, R., Strom, P., Lee, T., Nakagawa, K., & Beckert, T. (2008). Taiwanese grandmothers: Strengths and learning needs as perceived by grandmothers, mothers, and grandchildren. Educational Gerontology, 34(9), 812-830.

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