When you tell parents that you study kids and social media, they invariably complain about Facebook (or it’s pre-teen brethren, Club Penguin and Togetherville), and ask if all this social networking is good or bad for kids. As with many social science questions, the answer, of course, is “it depends.”
A new report in the April issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, weighs in on the issue and encourages pediatricians to talk about social media and online social networking with parents. Although the report doesn’t get deep into network science, it does allude to some of the common findings from our field. For instance, the authors cite studies suggesting that kids can benefit by expanding their networks online to include contacts that are more numerous and diverse than they may otherwise encounter in their offline networks, affording them access to information and resources they might not otherwise have. Likewise, kids may be able to find communities of practice online where they can build social skills and participate in collective action around a cause that matters to them.
The authors also warn of the potential downsides of online networks, including increased risk of cyberbullying, sexting, and something they call “Facebook depression,” which they imply (without the benefit of many peer-reviewed references) can arise when there is a mismatch between the perception of social support and acceptance from online networks, and the actual support and acceptance received from those networks.
The report concludes with a series of generalized warnings about online privacy, and recommends that pediatricians discuss online social networking with the parents of their patients, in light of the, “challenging social and health issues that online youth experience.”
Personally, I was happy to see that the AAP is talking about social media, even if the report was a bit alarmist for my tastes. I think the privacy risks were somewhat overstated, and I would have liked to see more emphasis on placed on the role that online media play in strengthening existing social ties, an important benefit of social media that was not noted in the report.
What do you think? Does the report do a good job informing parents and doctors about the benefits and risks of social networking? Has your pediatrician discussed social networking sites with you or your children?
Read the full report, here: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/peds.2011-0054v1
Or the press release from the AAP, here: http://aap.org/advocacy/releases/socialmedia2011.htm