While social media is still too new to gauge its long-term effects on human psychology, a handful of studies suggest seem to confirm conventional wisdom to the effect that social media -- including online gaming -- can has addictive qualities that are harmful to vulnerable people who over-use the new technologies.
In a recent study by Dr. Larry Rosen, a social media researcher at California State University, Dominguez Hills, surveyed more than 1,000 urban adolescents and found a number of negative effects from overuse of social media, varying by the type of activity. For example, teens who play online games all the time are more likely to experience physical and psychological symptoms including insomnia, agitation, depression, and stomach aches. Meanwhile teens who log into Facebook more than average are also more likely to be "self-absorbed," "narcissistic," belligerent, paranoid, and -- ironically enough -- antisocial. "Obsessive" social media use can also result in truancy, lower test scores, and bad grades.
One of the most interesting findings from Rosen's survey showed that teens and young adults who log into Facebook very frequently are more likely to abuse alcohol than others. I have no idea why this might be, since it seems equally plausible that alcohol abuse could just as easily be correlated with social behavior (binge drinking at parties) as antisocial behavior (binge drinking alone). Maybe it's a little of both.
As a matter of fact this isn't the first study to suggest that apparently unrelated negative behaviors, like substance abuse, are correlated with excessive social media use. In November I wrote about a study from Case Western Reserve's School of Medicine, warning that excessive use of social media -- specifically, "hypertexting" (sending more than 120 messages per school day) and "hypernetworking" (spending more than three hours per day on sites like Facebook) -- is linked to dangerous health problems and antisocial behavior in teens.
Among the Case Western findings about teens:
- Teens who hypertext are:
- Twice as likely to have tried alcohol.
- 3.5 times more likely to have had sex.
- 40% more likely to have tried cigarettes.
- 41% more likely to have used illicit drugs.
- 43% more likely to be binge drinkers.
- 55% more likely to have been in a physical fight.
- 90% more likely to report four or more sexual partners.
- Heavy social network users were:
- 60% more likely to have four or more sexual partners.
- 62% more likely to have tried cigarettes.
- 69% more likely to be binge drinkers.
- 69% more likely to have had sex.
- 79% more likely to have tried alcohol.
- 84% more likely to have used illicit drugs.
- 94% more likely to have been in a physical fight.
All this may seem pretty damning at first glance. However, I would argue (as I have in the past) that excessive social media use and texting are just symptoms of longstanding social ills. It's well known that adolescents, struggling with unstable identities and mood swings, are more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior. I believe excessive social media use is closely related to the sense of incompleteness and insecurity which bedevils many teens (not to mention a good number of adults): like alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex, it serves to occupy a restless, wandering, attention-seeking personality, which believes itself totally unable to find peace and tranquility on its own terms.
COMMENTARY: If parents are reading this, they should take careful note of those numbers, especially heavy teen usage of social networks like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Those are appalling numbers, but reflective of today's social media addicted society.
At an early age children are exposed to bad social behaviors, too much sex, scenes of violent crimes and bad language on TV and films. Teens experiencing puberty go through a period where they are experimenting with not only sex, but smoking, drinking and drugs. Peer pressure is intense. Many find it cool, and enjoy that "hit" and "high" from smoking, consuming drugs and drinking. Even violent behavior offers a release, another psychological high, if you will. We all went through this in our youth, but it has gotten worse, perhaps even intensified through social networking because teens share information about their experiences and this is just as bad as negative word-of-mouth.
Rosen said new research has also found positive influences linked to social networking, including:
- Young adults who spend more time on Facebook are better at showing “virtual empathy” to their online friends.
- Online social networking can help introverted adolescents learn how to socialize behind the safety of various screens, ranging from a two-inch smartphone to a 17-inch laptop.
- Social networking can provide tools for teaching in compelling ways that engage young students.
For parents, Rosen offered guidance.
“If you feel that you have to use some sort of computer program to surreptitiously monitor your child's social networking, you are wasting your time. Your child will find a workaround in a matter of minutes. You have to start talking about appropriate technology use early and often and build trust, so that when there is a problem, whether it is being bullied or seeing a disturbing image, your child will talk to you about it.”
He encouraged parents to assess their child’s activities on social networking sites, and discuss removing inappropriate content or connections to people who appear problematic. Parents also need to pay attention to the online trends and the latest technologies, websites and applications children are using, he said.
“Communication is the crux of parenting. You need to talk to your kids, or rather, listen to them. The ratio of parent listen to parent talk should be at least five-to-one. Talk one minute and listen for five.”
Courtesy of an article dated August 8, 2011 appearing in MediaPost Publications The Social Graf