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Teen Social Networking (3 parts)

Ask the Experts
by Mary Beth Garvey (Part 1 of 3)

Q: My middle school and high school children seem hyper-focused on social networking. It seems they have a constant preoccupation with texting, checking their cell phones, and being on the computer. Should I be concerned? 

A: Though technology is no different than anything else, with its capacity for good and bad, social networking has become a conflict-laden issue for many parents as they struggle to find the balance between setting limits and giving their kids the freedom to explore technology safely. Our children are technology natives: they have never lived during a time when communication, gathering and sharing information, learning, creating and down time wasn’t driven in large part by technology.

It is familiar territory for them. The current statistics on teen technology use are startling, and trends suggest a continuing increase in technology use for the future.

Teen Texting and Cell Phone Use

  • 50% of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month
  • 1 in 3 send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month
  • Boys send and receive 30 texts daily while girls typically send and receive 80
  • Teen texters ages 12-13 typically send and receive 20 texts a day
  • 14-17 year-old texters typically send and receive 60 text messages a day Teen Internet Use
  • 93% of teens ages 12-17 go online
  • 69% of teens have their own computer
  • 63% of teen internet users go online every day
  • 27% of teens use their phone to get online
  • 24% of teens with a game console use it to go online

Teen Social Networking Use

  • 73% of teens are on a social networking site
  • The average teen has 201 Facebook friends
  • 37% send messages to friends every day

What Teens do on Facebook

  • 86% of social network-using teens comment on a friend’s wall
  • 83% comment on friends’ pictures
  • 66% send private messages to friends
  • 58% send IM or text messages using the site
  • 52% send group messages
  • 22% have been cyber pranked.

Given these statistics, and what parents are observing in their own families, it is reasonable to be focused on finding a balance.

The digital culture can be difficult to negotiate for families, but it brings both positives and negatives. There are many headlines that link social networking with mental health issues, substance abuse, or having a negative impact on learning and it’s important to be aware of potential risks.

However, there are also many critics who contend that the studies don’t identify whether social networking is the trigger for these issues or whether these issues existed before. There is not yet a body of research that allows any definitive conclusions about the psychological risks or benefits of using social media.

(Statistical Sources: Pew Internet and American Life Project and Pew Research)



Teen Social Networking (Part 2 of 3)


Q: My middle school and high school children seem hyper-focused on social networking. It seems they have a constant preoccupation with texting, checking their cell phones, and being on the computer. Should I be concerned?

A: What does this mean for parents? It suggests that we critically attend to the pros and cons of social networking and the impact is has on our unique family composition and personalities. Different children are going to need limits and guidelines tailored to them.

We need to explore how technology and social networking serves our children and what are the pitfalls. Monitoring, education, and limits are critical, but equally as important is safeguarding your connection with your kids, maintaining family time and continuing to establish a trusting relationship based on respect, high expectations and accountability.

The Pros of Social Networking

  • Social networks can help you find individuals who share similar interests or seek out specific information
  • Social networking can be an extension of real world friendships and allows teens to enrich and manage their social lives, particularly in our overscheduled culture
  • Social networking provides shy or introverted teens a comfortable way to communicate and practice their social skills.
  • Social networking allows kids who have disabilities or other challenges to communicate with other teens with similar problems, lessen their isolation and provide mutual support
  • Social networking provides an opportunity to promote artistic talent or experiment with other forms of content creation
  • Social networking can provide a venue for activism and political engagement

Potential Risks of Social Networking

  • Cyber bulling is a risk, including sending threatening messages, publicizing private messages, or posting photos that will cause embarrassment
  • 29% of teens have posted mean information, embarrassing photos or spread rumors about someone and 24% have had private or embarrassing information made public without their permission
  • Teens can become potential targets for predators because of the anonymity of social networking sites and their naivety about information they share
  • 55% of teens have given out personal or identifying information to someone they don’t know and 29% have been contacted by someone they don’t know
  • Teens may prioritize social networking over face-to-face family and friend relationships and withdraw from activities and more intimate relationships
  • Excessive use can have negative effects on health and mental health
  • Social networking can negatively impact study time or family time
  • Kids can become preoccupied with cultivating their on-line persona, isolating socially or ignoring real world obligations
  • Texting and talking on cell phones while driving is an increasing concern, with 40% of teens reporting they have been in a car when a driver put themselves or others in danger while using a cell phone
  • Plagiarism and cheating is widely available online

It is worth noting, that the negatives are significantly influenced by the excessiveness of an individual’s social networking. Technology use is not the issue as much as technology overuse.

Therefore, it follows that parents and the family culture have an important impact on how social media is utilized and experienced. Dr. Larry Rosen, an expert in the field of Psychology and Technology, illustrated this in a recent study, “The impact of Parental Attachment Style, Limit Setting and Monitoring on Teen MySpace Behavior.”

Part of what Rosen wanted to assess was what role parenting plays in the on-line experiences of children. In addition to finding that pre-teens and teens were spending many hours per week on social networking sites and that many parents were unaware of how this had become a major focus for their children’s social lives, he also found that parenting style had a critical impact on how kids used social networking. His study indicated that children of authoritative parents had the most positive impact on their children’s networking experience. He defined authoritative as parents who set limits, but did so by talking about them with their children and getting input from their children.

Children of this parenting style showed more intimacy with and attachment to their parents, had more social confidence, disclosed less personal information online, were less likely to meet someone who they first met online, viewed less pornography online, were less depressed, were less likely to become addicted to the internet and had more positive self-esteem.

Authoritative parents set more clear limits, paid more attention to their teen’s social networking activities, placed the computer in a common area, and were more likely to create their own social networking page.

(Statistical Sources: Pew Internet and American Life Project and Pew Research)


Teen Social Networking (Part 3 of 3)


Q: My middle school and high school children seem hyper-focused on social networking. It seems they have a constant preoccupation with texting, checking their cell phones, and being on the computer. Should I be concerned? 

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO? TTYL: Talk Now + Talk Later + Talk Again

Clearly parents are essential in helping our children develop a healthy and productive relationship with technology. This can be nurtured in a number of ways and it begins with talking to your kids about technology the same way you would talk to them about drugs, sex or anything else. Kids listen to parents very closely and will internalize your values and standards if you maintain a healthy and open relationship with your adolescent.

Here's what to do:

Be proactive.

Educate your kids early and often about the risks and responsibilities of social networking. Talk with kids about using privacy settings on their profiles, restricting access to known friends, and what information is safe to disclose. Teach them to self-reflect before they self-reveal and help them to understand that anything they post can be forwarded by others and viewed by vast anonymous audiences. Make certain they know what to do if they are being bullied or contacted by someone who makes them feel threatened or unconformable and discuss what to do if someone wants to meet them in person or asks them to send photos.

Conversations about social networking should be frequent and become more complex as your kids have more freedom to explore technology. Some social networking basics to cover:

  • Never share names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses
  • Never open an email from a stranger
  • Never send pictures to strangers of view pictures that strangers send to them
  • Keep passwords private (except for parents)
  • Tell a trusted adult if they feel threatened or uncomfortable by an experience

Coach your teen to use caution and common sense online about what they disclose.

Remind them to think carefully about what they post – comments, photos, or videos – all of which have long term consequences for their reputation. Reiterate that once you post information, you can’t take it back.

Even if you delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people’s computers. Reinforce that kids should not post anything that they wouldn’t say to somebody’s face or be comfortable with a broad audience reading – including teachers, coaches, parents or other adults.

Colleges are asking for social networking information now and prospective employers are doing searches on social networking sites.

Help your teen balance their online social life with face-to-face time with friends and family.

Insist on quality time together, have technology free periods to protect your family time, make yourself available to talk and listen, and set and enforce reasonable rules and restrictions on your teen’s use of technology. Maintain meal times and other technology free times and take a good look at your own technology behavior. Make sure you are modeling the behavior you expect from your kids through your own example.

Help kids to think critically about what they find online.

Help them to determine how they can assess what is accurate information and what is not.

Connect with your teen on a social networking site.

Encourage them to share photos, posts and memories with extended family.

Don’t rely on secretly monitoring online activities.

Not only does it undermine the trust in your relationship, most teens can work around their parents’ restrictions in no time. Sixty seven per cent of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from parents and get past parental controls.

Technology and social networking, like all things, can be viewed as a gift or a curse. Most of our children know more about technology than we do, and will stay light years ahead of us in their expertise. Technology will continue to be a major part of our children’s social landscape and our responsibility is more than just setting limits. It is about providing the context for safe, responsible, respectful, well-informed and moderate use of social networking and it needs to be ongoing collaboration between ourselves and our teenagers.

(Statistical Sources: Pew Internet and American Life Project and Pew Research)

Mary Beth Garvey, LMSW, is a therapist in private practice in Grosse Pointe. She works with children, adolescents and families and can be reached at 313.408.2180 or Garvey is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.

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