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New Research on Social Networking

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Both TIME magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported on some dangers surfacing behind the many hours that teens are spending in social networking. Here are a few quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle article that relayed the results of a poll of 1,000 teens and 1,000 parents:

“From behind their bedroom doors, more than 1 out of every 10 teenagers has posted a nude or seminude picture of themselves or others online—a “digital tattoo” that could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

A quarter of the young people polled had posted something they later regretted, made fun of others or created a false identity online.

While teens are spending more and more time on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace—with 22 percent saying they check their sites more than 10 times a day—they don’t seem to be aware of the long-term personal havoc they could create with a click of a button.

And their parents generally have little idea about what their children are up to, the poll found.

[Social Networking] feels less personal; it’s easier to do mean things… It’s almost simulated behavior. You can be risky and do riskier things in a digital context.

Yet there can be enormous consequences: That alcohol-related post-prom picture? Someday an employer or college admission officer might come across it with a quick click on Google. Hitting delete to get rid of a questionable photo won’t help. The digital imprint never goes away and could be flitting across computer screens around the world.

Whether we like it or not, kids live in the 24/7 digital world… It affects virtually every aspect of their lives.

‘It’s a playground with no parental supervision,’ said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, who found in a study released earlier this year that 54 percent of teens demonstrate risky behavior online.

[Among parents] there’s definitely a not-my-kid syndrome.

Technology doesn’t create new behaviors, it just may exploit them.”

Teen social networking by the numbers:

  • 51 Percentage of teens who check their sites more than once a day.
  • 22 Percentage who check their sites more than 10 times a day.
  • 39 Percentage who have posted something they later regretted.
  • 37 Percentage who have used the sites to make fun of other students.
  • 25 Percentage who have created a profile with a false identity.
  • 24 Percentage who have hacked into someone else’s social networking account.
  • 13 Percentage who have posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves or others online.

In a TIME magazine article entitled “What Facebook Users Share” recent studies point to lower grades as a common trait among people who use Facebook extensively. It’s not that Facebook would be the cause, but that extended time and use of social networking could impact attention span and other factors that influence  grades and relationships.

The quote that most arrested my attention was from UCLA neuroscientist Gary Small:

“He warns of a decreased ability among devotees of social networks and other modern technology to read real-life facial expressions and understand the emotional context of subtle gestures. Young people are particularly at risk for these problems, he writes, because young minds tend to be the most sensitive, as well as the most exposed, to digital technology.”

The article warns of the tendency of teens to obsess over these technologies, giving too much time and influence to them. Amazingly, research continually reveals that parents have little knowledge of what their kids do online.

In the next week or so I will be posting two articles for parents and spiritual leaders related to controlling media—including social networking. May God give us wisdom to train up the next generation to be guarded and discerning in these areas!

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