One of the vagaries of parenthood is that we think we know more than our kids, enough to maintain a watchful eye over all they do and the places they go. That might have been true before the advent of wireless technology and electronic media, but that’s an iffy proposition today. Of course, the connected parent is concerned about his child’s safety and does all he can to ensure it. But that idea transcends the physical, for the motivational, psychological and emotional dangers are ubiquitous.
Anything that has benefits, whether subjectively perceived or real, could be laden with risks. Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, detailing her research from a recent issue of Pediatrics and reporting to WebMD, feels that, “Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep, and physical activity,” adding that, “Parents need to understand how their child is using social media so they can set appropriate limits.” The element of internet risk is recognized by about half the parents interviewed, but only a fourth deems internet sites safe. (WebMD. 3/28/11)
Concerning the children’s point of view, half admitted not to have spoken with their parents about their internet and social media activities. Only four percent of parents realize that their kids log-on more than ten times a day, and twelve percent don’t even know their kids have a social account. “Nurturing friendships and community engagement” are named as positive reasons to connect online, but the downsides of bullying and sexual inappropriateness receive equal attention. Dr. O’Keeffe suggests that age thirteen is suitable for social interaction via the internet, agreeing with federal privacy rules outlined on some of the more popular networking sites, such as Facebook. (O’Keeffe. 2011)
For years, health care professionals, teachers (especially PE teachers) and too few parents have been concerned with the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV, which for many households had been an electronic babysitter from the get-go. While the Journal of Adolescence tells us that kids’ TV time hasn’t increased appreciably in the last fifty years (Marshall. 2006), their video game and social networking time has. Electronic sexual solicitation of underage youth is not as widespread as one would think from the reports (Ybarra. 2008), but that does not eliminate or reduce the risk. Such solicitation is more likely to come through text messaging and in chat rooms, and harassment of one kind or another through instant messaging than through social networking sites (Ibid).
Nonetheless, kids spend more than seven hours a day, on average, in front of a screen. Recent evidence raises concerns about media’s effects on aggression, sexual behavior, substance use, disordered eating, and academic difficulties. Intense and regular parental involvement can increase the benefits and reduce the harm that media can have for a developing child and for adolescents. (Strasburger. 2010) Such anxieties are not limited to this side of the Atlantic or Pacific, either. Online “addictions” were found to be related not only to aggression, but also to narcissistic personality traits and self-control, in studies conducted in Korea using international parameters. (KIM. 2008)
The same kids who have problems with their peers at school or in the mall are likely to be the ones at risk for manipulation and targeting on the internet or smart phone. Picking up signs of aberrant behavior are important, but we have to be vigilant. Changes in behavior that include depression or aggression, delinquency or truancy, and becoming a loner or hanging with the wrong crowd are signals. From the biomedical position, sedentary habits at a young age might just be able to predict health problems in adulthood. Now, that’s another issue. This topic should not entertain role reversal, even if your child is more adept at using the computer than you are.
Social Networking May Affect Kids’ Health
Report Urges Parents to Communicate and Participate When Kids Socialize Online
Pediatrics Vol. 127 No. 4 April 1, 2011 pp. 800 -804
The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families
Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, MD,
Council on Communications and Media
J Adolesc. 2006 Jun;29(3):333-49. Epub 2005 Oct 21.
A descriptive epidemiology of screen-based media use in youth: a review and critique.
Marshall SJ, Gorely T, Biddle SJ.
Pediatrics Vol. 121 No. 2 February 1, 2008 pp. e350 -e357
How Risky Are Social Networking Sites? A Comparison of Places Online Where Youth Sexual Solicitation and Harassment Occurs
Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD, Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD
Pediatrics Vol. 125 No. 4 April 1, 2010 pp. 756 -767
Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents
Victor C. Strasburger, MDa, Amy B. Jordan, PhDb, Ed Donnerstein, PhDc
Eur Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;23(3):212-8. Epub 2007 Dec 31.
The relationship between online game addiction and aggression, self-control and narcissistic personality traits.
Kim EJ, Namkoong K, Ku T, Kim SJ.
Br J Sports Med. 2011 Sep;45(11):906-13.
Sedentary behaviour in youth.
Pate RR, Mitchell JA, Byun W, Dowda M.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
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