On being raised “virtually addicted”
Dr. Richard Haber, pediatrician and director of thePediatric Consultation Centre at The Montreal Children’s Hospital
My wife and I go on a dinner date every Friday night. We have six children, and eight grandchildren, who keep us busy so this is our time for each other. Over the past few years on these dates I have been noticing a disturbing trend: young couples engaging with other people on their cell phones during their dinner. But I must confess I also see this modern-day phenomenon with our 17-year-old granddaughter. Squabbling at the dinner table is not the main issue anymore as it was when I was raising teenagers. It is fighting against that handheld device to get her attention so I can enjoy her presence—actually being there. Young people today seem to walk, talk, eat, study with technology at their side keeping them on the cusp of minute-to-minute status updates, photos, and of course what’s on all their friends’ minds. With the lure of connecting to the entire world with just the click of a button, however, I am not surprised our children are becoming virtually addicted. Progress happens and this is something that we cannot impede. But I wonder what happens when generations of young people are raised “virtually addicted?”
A Social Networking study out of Oxford University suggests the young brain that is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, might become accustomed to this type of stimulation. “There is hardly any concentration skills required in participating in these social networking sites, and so this trains the brain to have a poor attention span.” The research also questioned kids communicating primarily through the screen, where they do not learn the subtleties of real life communication - such as body language, tone of voice, and subconsciously sensing the molecules other people release.Also, can the fact that sites encourage a more self-centered view of oneself—for example Facebook and other sites that give kids their own page—lead some vulnerable kids to think everything revolves around them; a precursor for emotional problems in their later life. An unfortunate outcome of this could be the inability to empathize.
A newer phenomenon pediatricians are observing with some teens is called "Facebook depression." After spending a lot of time on Facebook and other popular social networking sites, some teens are shown to become anxious and moody. A vulnerable teen may suffer from depression when he reads great things happening to his friends, and his life is not so great in comparison. Teens who experience "Facebook depression" usually have trouble with social interactions in general, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
On the school front, teachers are complaining that texting and posting to the web with abbreviations, misspellings and lack of grammar are seeping through to student’s school writings. Sleep deprivation due to online all-nighters can be an issue too, which affects school performance and more. Recent research from the journal Pediatrics, also indicates there are frequent online expressions of offline behaviours, such as bullying, clique-forming, and sexual experimentation, that have introduced problems such as cyberbullying, privacy issues, and “sexting.”
Apparently, there are some positive aspects of social networking. Research suggests engaging in various forms of social media sites allows teens to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them offline: staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing pictures, and exchanging ideas. Some schools use social media to help in teaching creative writing or in forming project work groups. Adolescents are also finding they can access online information about their health concerns easily and anonymously.But it seems to me the cons currently outweigh the pros. However, unfortunately, Social Networking is not going away anytime soon. So what would I tell the parents of the children I treat? Set a iimit on the amount of time they can spend texting, blogging, surfing the web and on social media web sites. Encourage your child to spend more time in real-life communication. Help him/her find other interests and help nuture those interests. Talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues today's online kids face. Perhaps have a family online-use plan that involves regular family meetings to discuss online topics and checks of privacy settings and online profiles for inappropriate posts. Keep the focus on healthy behaviour not punitive action. And just as I would tell all of our young kids out there today—be more present. Heck, why not try actually talking encouring your children to actually talk to their friends rather than simply texting them. What a novel idea.