Recent research findings indicate that modern-day modes of communication can greatly benefit teens, especially anxious teens and boys. Teens in general, and anxious teens in particular, greatly fear humiliation and rejection. Developing new friendships, and deepening existing friendships, can be quite difficult for them. Texting, instant messaging, and Facebook have been found to reduce these fears and allow them to connect with peers they may otherwise avoid. Valkenberg & Peter (2010) report that these modalities allow the teen to take greater risks of healthy self-disclosure which can enhance friendships and ultimately increase the teen’s self-confidence and well-being. Social networks, like Facebook, break down barriers to communication, such as cliques, socioeconomics, and physical separation. Kids who normally wouldn’t speak to each other at school are now able to connect and built friendships. There is a greater community being experienced online than at school.
Valkenberg & Peter (2010) report that eight-years ago only 11% of a teen’s friends were online. Now, only about 11% are NOT online. Teens online now communicate almost exclusively with their friends. In the past, they mainly communicated with strangers in chat rooms. In today’s culture, if your teen does not have access to texting or Facebook, they could be completely left out of their community network.
In my practice, I have seen teen’s mentally health improve by utilizing these means of communication. They have more friends, closer friends, and feel better about themselves. It contradicts what we first thought would happen years ago, that kids would become even more socially isolated, but it’s true. They still need face-to-face interaction, but the use of these technologies can make that connection less difficult to initiate and maintain.
Many parents, especially anxious parents, fear the new means of communication- cell phones, texting, instant messaging, Facebook and Myspace, but things have changed for the better over the last decade. Security applications and parental controls for Facebook and cell phones have greatly improved. Parents can now monitor and limit the amount of usage for cell phones, texting, and social networking activities. Facebook settings allow for your child’s profile information to only be seen by friends. Nothing’s perfect of course, but multiple research studies indicate that these communication formats are much safer and that there are benefits for the teen being plugged in.
Some further suggestions for parents who decide to let their teens use these technologies:
1.) Join the revolution and stop criticizing these new forms of communication (it only makes you look old). These things are here to stay. Get a phone that allows you to text. Get a Facebook account and become your child’s friend. Knowledge always breaks down fear. Interact with these technologies to gain a better understanding of your child’s world.
2.) Protect your teen from pornography, especially if you have a son. The percentage of male teens who view pornography on a regular basis has skyrocketed over the last decade. Never before in the history of mankind has the accessibility of porn been so easy for young men to obtain. Don’t assume your child would never view it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with parents shocked by their son’s porn use, often for years. Regardless of your personal views regarding pornography, research overwhelming indicates that the viewing of porn by young men is significantly harmful. Get protection for your home computers, and your child’s smart phone, PSP, or iTouch. Yes, these devises can access the internet and therefore porn. Since the iTouch came out and replaced the more common iPod, many young men view porn on it. Apple has software that will block it, but you must install it. Protect your child’s future from sexual addiction and problems with intimacy by protecting them now!
3.) Scott Frank (2010) reports that texting more than 120 texts per day, and social networking more than 3-hours per day, has been correlated with negative behaviors like smoking, drug & alcohol use, fighting, and promiscuous sexual behavior. The use of these communication technologies follows the law of diminishing returns, which states that something is beneficial up to a point of use. Then, with every increment of greater use, it becomes more harmful. Think of Aspirin- very helpful up to a point, then harmful and even lethal. I recommend to my clients allowing their teen to have a half-hour of free time when they get home from school to text, Facebook, or play a video game. Then ALL technologies should be off when they do homework, except maybe some music in the background. Then once they are done, they can resume activities. Use of these things should be less during the school week than the weekend. I’d suggest a maximum of 2-hours of all media during the week and 4-5 hours on weekend days. Texting can be for a little longer as long as it does not exceed the limit stated above.
Teach your child to compartmentalize and balance these wonderful new inventions, whether it be communication technologies or video games. They need to learn how to use them, and when to turn them off so that they don’t distract them or rob them of more relationship enhancing activities. The world is an ever-changing place and we must change with it so that we can properly guide our young people to maximize the new technologies and minimize their risks.