Social Media’s Impact on Children

Times Live, May 15, 2012:

This brief article describes an interview with Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a Bay Area think tank on children and the media. In it, Steyer mentions the potentially positive effect of the social media on learning but points out in stark terms the troubling way in which such media are flooding our children’s sensibilities and entering their private lives. As I am an admirer of his earlier book, The Other Parent, I was intrigued to hear that he has written a new book about the impact of social media on kids and how parents can work to monitor and protect their children.

Though I am not precisely sure from his interview what his concerns might be in terms of privacy issues, I am well aware that in the setting of my private practice certain problems arise. I have treated a number of children who have offered naked photos of themselves online to boyfriends or would-be boyfriends, and the photos have gone viral. Other kids, both boys and girls, have hurled insults and threats online. While the distinction may blur between bullying and lampooning and raw language, one of the problems seems to be that such verbal escapades are so common online that the reader and the writer has become desensitized to what is being conveyed. But at times this bullying or crude joking or raw threatening can have lasting implications for one’s standing with friends and in schools.

Is the question here whether cognitive and social immaturity on the part of the teen or preteen is now being magnified by their easy access to each other via the social media? Is it a matter of poor impulse control now unfettered? Or are we seeing a blurring of fantasy and reality in the minds of the kids, whose own sensibilities are flooded day in day out with provocative media imagery, be it violent or sexual or crude or laughable? Regardless, the children in question don’t always understand what they’ve conveyed until it’s too late, and they cannot take it back. And families can suffer terribly for these verbal and social missteps for years.