Chantelle K. Dockter,
MA Licensed Professional Counselor
Question: My thirteen-year-old daughter has been hounding me to allow her to have a Facebook profile. She tells me that all her friends have one, and that she feels like an outcast because she has not been allowed to create one. Should I give in and let her?
Answer: Let me premise my answer with this: not all of you are going to like or agree with my response, which is okay. However, as a therapist who works largely with teenagers, I stand behind the following advice. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are alluring to teens and adults alike. There is something intriguing about being able to connect with others via computer, including looking at pictures and chatting.
This all sounds harmless enough, but there are many risks that have to be examined. I emphasize that there are risks to adults being on these social networks as well, but those specific risks will be examined in another article.
Your teen is correct that “most” kids do seem to be allowed to be a part of one of the above mentioned social networks. However, I believe this is a case where the majority does not reflect the healthiest choice. Yes, there are some good things that social networks provide, and some teens can handle them well. Yet the potential cons outweigh the pros. There is recent and continuing research that has been done on the link between electronic media and youth violence. The term violence here refers to the slander, hate, and cruelty that many teens experience over Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and texting. This form of violence can be just as harmful as face-to-face bullying, whether verbal or physical. In fact, due to the fact that many people become “braver” behind a screen, the insults and attacks can be even more intense and destructive. Because of the interwoven connections of “friends” on the networks, written attacks are often viewed by many and many kids are ganged up on. This joining of negative forces results in a sense of shame and often fear, not to mention a decrease in confidence and self-esteem which many teenagers already struggle with. I am amazed at the bold and vile language that teens on Facebook etc. use towards others. The vicious attacks on appearance, families, and character are appalling to say the least. In light of the recent suicide by a young teen girl that has captured the media’s attention, it is imperative that we become more aware and take a no tolerance approach to any type of bullying, and that includes with the electronic media. That young girl who took her own life was victimized and tormented, largely over text and over the computer. Sadly, it was more then she could take. This was not an isolated case. She was not the only one that this is happening to.
Another big concern with Facebook and MySpace is the photo capabilities. This also holds true with cell phones. I cannot tell you how many teen girls (or younger!) have sat in my office and have disclosed that they have sent inappropriate pictures of themselves to others, either by phone or computer. These images are often then passed on to those who were not intended to see them, and often used as blackmail or a way to destruct one’s reputation. My teen clients report they do this for the following reasons: “Everyone is doing it”, “The guy said he would not show anyone else and I believed him”, “I wanted attention”, or simply “He asked me to”. Scary stuff.
Facebook and Myspace allow for way too much freedom that teens, and even some adults, simply cannot handle. The above teen statements reveal a naiveté and lack of judgment which goes along with being a teen to some extent. Their cerebral frontal lobe is not fully developed yet, and we as parents and caretakers need to help them by being a surrogate frontal lobe and assist them in exercising good insight and decision making. If you do decide to allow your teen to be on an electronic social network, it is imperative that you monitor it closely, and consistently. You want to know where your child is going and who they are going with when they go out, and the same should be true for the electronic world they enter into. Even then be aware that there are ways around parents’ eyes that teens know all too well.
Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of CCCOW