People subscribe to social networking media as it helps them widen their networks as well as reconnect with loved ones and friends. Considering sites such as Multiply, Bebo, Twitter, and Facebook, among others, are readily available on the Internet, the lure to try and check what these sites offer is so high. While these networking sites aid in providing meaningful social relationships with other people, teenagers are also exposed to the dangers the networking media brings. Exposing teenagers to social networking media such as Facebook opens the doorway for them to experience emotional and mental stresses, cyber bullying, online addictions, privacy issues, and identity theft.
Facebook is the most popular social networking media available to man now. It is an integral part of everyone’s life as it helps in maintaining relationships, developing new connections, and reaching out to a wider clientele. It makes communication easier and faster and allows one to know more about other cultures, religion, beliefs, and traditions. Those who share common interests find comfort in knowing that there are people who enjoy the same things they like. It has become a haven for online users who have the same beliefs, experiences, interests, and values. Thus, people who share the same passion in sports, fashion, and hobbies, including those looking for job or business opportunities are all attracted to Facebook.
Facebook has also become an online diary for some as they make all information about themselves available for all to see. Messages, pictures, comments, and other types of posts can be shared and viewed by friends of friends and even by strangers. Features such as the chat box allow for real time communication that includes voice, video, or instant messaging chat. Games are also available so that friends can play among themselves or with unknown people.
With this said, who now is heavily affected by the use of Facebook? What specific consequences are observable on these people? How does Facebook exposure affect their lives? The answer to these questions is the “teenagers”. Despite claims that parents supervise how their children use the Internet, specifically the Facebook application, a Harris Interactive-McAfee (2008) study reveals that despite heavy parental monitoring, teenagers still have access to Facebook whether in school or at home because most mobile devices now include Facebook as one of the featured applications in their units. In addition, many teenagers are left to do self-regulation, which is impossible to do considering that they have very limited knowledge about censorship and privacy settings. Thus, instead of focusing their attention on studies, teenagers spend more time on Facebook and other social media sites.
Facebook usage could lead teenagers to develop the habit of drinking and smoking. Innes (2013) reported that “teenagers who see friends smoking and drinking alcohol in photographs posted on Facebook are more likely to smoke and drink themselves” (Innes). This is because what they see online gives teenagers the notion that it is normal and that at their age, they are allowed to engage in such activities. In addition, they are easily influenced by what they see their friends are doing, thus, if they see people they mingle with are drinking and smoking as well, they tend to follow what their peers are doing.
Based on a study conducted by Dr. Thomas Valente, a professor at the University of Southern California handling preventive medicine classes, the number of online and offline friends an individual has does not determine whether a teenager will engage in smoking or drinking. However, what does have a huge influence is the pictures posted by friends on their Facebook walls that depict them in near-drunk stupor and enjoying the experience. This is based on a survey conducted on about 1,500 students whose ages are from 15-16 years old, where they were asked about their “online and offline friendship networks, the frequency of their social media use, their smoking, and their alcohol consumption” (Innes).
While not all teenagers succumb to peer pressure, those who do not bear the brunt of being cyber-bullied online for various reasons. Cyber bullying is a form of harassment involving the use of electronic devices with the purpose of embarrassing another individual. Because of teenagers’ exposure to Facebook, they either end up as the bully or the victim (Pachucki). There is research that says about 20% of teenagers have participated in acts that consequently hurt their peers, such as “posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous emails or cyberpranking” (Harris Interactive-McAfee) their peers. In addition, seeing other people make fun of someone else on Facebook gives teenagers a false sense of power over the victim, although in some instances, they are not aware that their actions already point to bullying.
Studies also reveal that because teenagers are aware that their parents keep a tab on what they do online, some of them begin to change their privacy settings so that their parents do not get to see all their activities (Harris Interactive-McAfee). This gives credence to parents’ fears about the safety of their children because they (parents) are very much aware that some teenagers provide personal information to strangers in the hope of widening their network of friends. In connection with this is the fear about the presence of online sexual predators that target teen girls by pretending to be someone who is the same age as them. When “trust” develops, the teenager then begins to feel comfortable and give out photos of themselves, including their family, and other personal information. This fear is not unwarranted considering that according to a McAfee study, “52 per cent of teens have given out personal information to someone online they don’t know offline, with 34 per cent of online teen girls given out a photograph or a physical description of themselves to someone they don’t know” (Harris Interactive-McAfee). Apart from changing privacy settings, some teens have also started creating new email addresses and Facebook profiles in the hope that they can evade their parents’ queries regarding their online activities.
As these fears are valid, research has also given way to new types of mental problems associated with the use of social networking sites. Too much exposure to Facebook sometimes leads teenagers to what is known as “Facebook depression” (Braams), which is a consequence of excess Facebook usage. It gives teenagers a false sense of confidence about themselves, especially those who are extremely shy in real life situations. It was revealed that those teenagers who are aggressive and friendly online also display the same characteristics offline, while those who are naturally shy either remain shy online or switch personalities to become a confident and level-headed person online (Braams). This behavior of wanting to go online on Facebook everyday could also lead to what is known as “Facebook Addiction”, also known as Internet Addiction Disorder or IAD (Novas). Based on Novas’ research, this is primarily due to peer pressure, popularity and status issues, natural need for acceptance, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem due to painful experiences while using various types of social media (Novas). These negative feelings arise from their constant use of Facebook and seeing pictures that show their friends enjoying parties, going on trips, eating in the best restaurants, and buying the most fashionable clothes, when they could not.
The problem with this is that these teenagers have to maintain a personality that is not them, thus, they sometimes find it difficult to keep up with it. Seeing their friends having fun and living the good life while they don’t further adds to the feelings of depression. In addition, reports say that teenagers themselves sometimes wish that they could just turn everything off and unplug from the daily rigors of being online. They cite that while they enjoy posting pictures of themselves online and comment on friends’ pictures and statuses, they feel so stressed out choosing the pictures they should or should not post as they want to ensure that what they have are all images that project a good picture of them (Rideout, 2012, p. 26). With narcissistic tendencies, teenagers are more conscious of how they should project themselves online. As teenagers become addicted to Facebook, the more they feel isolated from the world as they put more importance on their online relationships rather than on real-life connections. Their emotional health and social wellbeing becomes affected because they find it difficult to maintain relationships with real-life people or even hold face-to-face conversations with others.
Facebook also changes a teenager’s behavior towards their studies. Because of their addiction to Facebook, teenagers often ensure to log on to the application and check what is happening to their friends and associates, thus, presenting a distraction to their study hour. In a study used by the American Psychological Association, it showed that “students in all grade levels who checked their Facebook accounts at least once during a 15-minute study period exhibited lower academic grades than those who did not check their Facebook accounts over the same period” (Pachucki). This is often attributed to teenagers’ heavy use of the Facebook application.
Taking into consideration the facts and circumstances involved in the use of Facebook among teenagers, including weakened personal and social relationships, false representation of oneself, and how Facebook contributes in lowering an individual’s self-confidence and self-worth, it is important that parents understand what social media does to their children. With the advancement of technology, the more human connections is important to ensure that teenagers grow up confident and aware of what they are capable of doing and who they are as a person. This will help them avoid online chatting and relationships with unseen people and understand that emotional help can be had from real life relationships.
Facebook usage is not bad, but teenagers follow what they see online, including fashion, language used, handling love affairs and relationships, and how to live their lives, among others. These lead to behavioral changes that are noticeable in teenagers nowadays, that is why parental supervision is necessary and valuable in inculcating values and safeguards to help protect teenagers from the negative aspects of going online.
Braams, B. (2013). Facebook depression? The influence of social media on adolescents. Leiden Psychology Blog. Retrieved from http://www.leidenpsychologyblog.nl/articles/facebook-depression-the-influence-of-social-media-on-adolescents
Harris Interactive-McAfee. (2008). McAfee, Inc. Research Reveals Mothers Rate Cyber Dangers as High as Drunk Driving or Experimenting with Drugs. McAfee, Inc. Retrieved <http://www.mcafee.com/au/about/news/2008/20081022_095000_x.aspx>
Innes, Emma. (2013). Is Facebook bad for your child’s health? Teenagers are more likely to smoke and drink if they see picture of friends partying on the site. Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2409671/Is-Facebook-bad-childs-health-Teenagers-likely-smoke-drink-pictures-friends-partying-site.html
Novas, C. (n.d.). Social networking sites: Benefits, problems, and Facebook depression. National Research Center for Women & Families. Retrieved from http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/1-general-health-and-mental-health/social-networking-sites-benefits-problems-and-facebook-depression/
Pachucki, D. (n.d.). Problems with teens being on Facebook for too long. Global Post. Retrieved from http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/problems-teens-being-facebook-long-4659.html
Rideout, V. (2012). Social media, social life: How teens view their digital lives. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from http://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/socialmediasociallife-final-061812.pdf