Lifestyles

Social media making kids less social?

My son spends a lot of time on his computer. He doesn't often go out with his friends and would rather play games with his friends online. Should I be worried about his antisocial tendencies?

 

It is no surprise to most parents that the rise of technology has had a huge impact on the way that kids engage in social relationships. Children as young as four or five are often "plugged in" to technology through the use of iPods, computers, cell phones, tablets, gaming systems and other forms of social media.

While social media has many advantages, parents may be worried about the effects that it has on their children's real-life relationships. Technological advances such as texting, multi-player online video games, and video chat have removed the need for individuals to meet face-to-face, or even hear one another's voice, to build relationships.

There is an ongoing debate right now, as to whether this change in the way people interact has negative or positive effects on social relationships.

On one side of the argument, social media has opened the doors for people to be able to interact in way that used to be impossible. This has expanded the globe, as children are exposed to cultures and places they may have never heard of otherwise.

YouTube videos, Facebook groups, multi-player online games, are just a few examples of media that bring together people from all around the world to a common interest. Communication has also changed drastically.

People are able to converse daily with family and friends who live far away, and whom they might have little relationship with, apart from the use of media. Many teenagers also find a sense of support and community from the online world through blogs, forums, online groups and other social media.

These can be particularly helpful if youth are going through a difficult time since it allows them to connect with others who are facing the same struggles.

On the other side of the argument, however, too much use of social media has its own risks. While media can help people feel connected to one another, it can also cause people to feel extremely lonely.

Teenagers have sat in my office and told me how alone they feel, despite the hundreds of "friends" they have on their Facebook account. Online friends may provide entertainment and a distraction from homework, but they cannot replace actual live interactions, which are extremely important for one's social growth and health.

Even the support that can be received from friends online has a limit. Eventually, people need a real "live" person to give them a hug, or walk with them through their struggle.

Another risk that is becoming more frequent online is cyber-bullying. This occurs when someone seeks support online, only to be met with negative comments, which further exacerbates their feelings of isolation and loneliness.

For parents, it can be challenge knowing where to draw the line with social media. There are many decisions to be made, such as what types of media are allowed, how old do children have to be to use them, how much time can be spent online, will you monitor their time online, etc.?

It can all be overwhelming! The best tip I offer to parents is to be informed about the online world.

Know who your kids are talking to. Know which sites they are visiting. Know how long they are spending online.

If you feel overwhelmed about the scope of the Internet, take a class to educate yourself about what your kids are doing. This may be one of the most valuable ways you can connect with your children.

And remember, online time cannot replace real life time spent as a family. Make sure that your family knows you are there for them, even if their 2,847 Facebook friends are not.

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

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