Clinical Report: The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke Pediatrics Volume 127, Number 4, April 2011 pp. 800-804 RISKS OF YOUTH USING SOCIAL MEDIA Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace offer multiple daily opportunities for connecting with friends, classmates, and people with shared interests.
During the last 5 years, the number of preadolescents and adolescents using such sites has increased dramatically. Since a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones, children and adolescents are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media, because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure. Recent research indicates that there are frequent online expressions of offline behaviors, such as bullying, and sexual experimentation, that have introduced problems such as cyber-bullying, privacy issues, and sexting.
Cyber-bullying Cyber-bullying is deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. It is the most common online risk for all teens and is a peer-to-peer risk. Although “online harassment” is often used interchangeably with the term “cyber-bullying,” it is actually a different entity. Current data suggest that online harassment is not as common as offline harassment (Lenhart, 2007), and participation in social networking sites does not put most children at risk of online harassment (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008).
On the other hand, cyber-bullying is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). Sexting Sexting can be defined as “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital devices”(Berkshire District Attorney, 2010). Many of these images become distributed rapidly via cell phones or the Internet.
This phenomenon does occur among the teen population; a recent survey revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or seminude photographs or videos of themselves (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2010). Some teens who have engaged in sexting have been threatened or charged with felony child pornography charges, although some states have started characterizing such behaviors as juvenile-law misdemeanors (Gifford, 2010; Walker, 2010).
Additional consequences include school suspension for perpetrators and emotional distress with accompanying mental health conditions for victims. In many circumstances, however, the sexting incident is not shared beyond a small peer group or a couple and is not found to be distressing at all (Lenhart, 2009). Facebook Depression Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression (Davilla et al. 2009; Sturm, 2010). Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents. As with offline depression, preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for “help” that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.
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