Are there risks with teens using Facebook and MySpace?

A number of people linked to this article – unhelpfully titled Facebook, MySpace put teens at risk of suicide: church when it came out earlier in the week, immediately dismissing it as a lack of understanding of the technology.

But most would remember the story of Megan Meier , who committed suicide after being dumped by an online boyfriend (who turned out to be the mother of one of her classmates). A google search on teen commits suicide over online bullying shows that teenagers are increasingly finding the online space as being one with new challenges, and one where schools have less ability to intervene. This is even happening in Australia.

Social networking sites can indeed encourage an attitude towards relationships where quantity is more important than quality – who hasn’t looked at the number of facebook friends, twitter followers, even linkedin contacts, and made an impression of a person.

If teens (and even younger kids) are integrating these tools into their lives, without having the years of experience in “real life” friendship, is it so unreasonable to think that there might be some risks that adults have yet to think through?

4 thoughts on “Are there risks with teens using Facebook and MySpace?”

  1. Yeah I agree with you. I think social networking sites can act like a bit of a bell jar and balance between online and offline interaction gets skewed. And without that filter of face to face communication (or even voice to voice) helping people to decode or even just authenticate what people are saying, I think things like bullying and emotional manipulation can be that much more brutal online.

  2. I think it’s important to remember correlation != causation. There are going to be increasing reports where the two are linked, simply because of the dramatic rise in use. But it’s hardly new in 2009 – who doesn’t remember ICQ and the like back in the 90s?

    Frankly, I think that Abp is talking out his mitre. “Friendship is not a commodity, friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it’s right” – what kids think of friendship in these terms?

    I think he misunderstands both the nature of childhood friendships by projecting his own, far deeper adult view, and the nature of the technology. Kids (and everyone, really) have never been able to stay in touch like they can now, and given its popularity, maybe they should be applauding the technology as a net builder, not destroyer, of relationships.

  3. @Bec, @Karen, thanks for chipping in.

    @Luke, welcome to commenting here. You make a good point that correlation is not the same as causation. I certainly wouldn’t be so bold.

    I think that perhaps you’re under-selling the nature of childhood friendships: friendships that require some kind of time investment are still quite different from just asking people to be friends on a social networking site – the idea of trying to increase your popularity by having a big number of such “friends”, and then losing self-esteem if these numbers dwindle, or if the crowd turns on you, seems fair.

    Perhaps I’m projecting too much of an understanding of the technology onto the Abp, but I still think he’s onto something.

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