Parents’ suspicions are correct: Facebook can pose a problem to developing teens. As teens are drawn to social interaction, the ever presence of Facebook can draw teens into a type of virtual social addiction. But before parents begin to worry themselves, they should question whether their teen is at risk for Facebook addiction or whether their teen is simply engaging in normal use of a popular social media site.
How Long Is “Too Long?”
Just as two physically healthy teens might spend vastly different amounts of time on physical exercise, two mentally healthy teens might spend vastly different amounts of time on Facebook. “Too long” is more of a matter of the signs you see in your teen than it is a matter of objective numbers. Only about two out of every 100 parents need worry about their teen’s social media use, according to Kimberly Young, Internet addiction expert and author of the book “Internet Addiction: A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment.” Most children use Facebook as a way to connect with friends and stay updated on the social happenings within their inner circle. Parents who should be concerned with the time their children spend on Facebook are parents who see signs of negative personality changes. When your child begins to exhibit signs of poor self-esteem, social avoidance or irresponsibility in the real world, your child may be spending too much time on Facebook.
Facebook as a Coping Device
While the healthy use of Facebook tends to be one of solidifying and strengthening bonds with real-life friends, unhealthy use often includes turning away from the real social world in favor of the virtual social world. Young states that many Facebook addicts use Facebook as a way of avoiding stressful social interactions. Teens, who have a strong need for social contact, might fulfill that need through unnatural means, such as through Facebook. This is problematic in that Facebook does not help teens nurture their social skills like real-life social interaction does. While communicating through Facebook might be more comfortable for many socially uneasy teens, it is not a replacement for real social contact.
Weakened Family Bonds
Before Facebook, teens had the daunting task of coming home to their families after school. Nowadays, teens can come home and continue interacting with their friends. Internet scholar Keith Beard wrote in his chapter in Young’s “Internet Addiction: A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment” that when a teen spends hours a day on Facebook, she is essentially avoiding her family for those hours, which can weaken the family bonds. Today’s teens, when engaging in the overuse of Facebook, are unknowingly giving up important family time in favor of online gossip and picture-trading.
What You Can Do
As a parent, the keys to your child’s technology, Internet access and Facebook lie on your key chain. You have the final say on what goes and what’s against the family rules. But before directly restricting access from your overzealous Facebook user, consider arranging more family time with your child. Family trips make for an ideal excuse to get your child away from the computer and into a real-world social situation. If it comes down to having to set rules, restrict Facebook just as you would restrict any other privilege: set time limits, such as only using Facebook between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., and situational conditions, such as only using Facebook after completing all of the next day’s homework.