With nearly half a billion users worldwide, the ultimate social network, Facebook, is connecting more people in more places than ever before.
But parents are beginning to wonder if it is wise to allow their kids to access such sites to stay in touch with friends.
Laguna Niguel clinical psychologist Susan Pazak said Facebook can be a good tool for building confidence and can allow people to more easily express emotions than they can with face-to-face contact.
“While it helps people become less inhibited, there is a catch," she said. “Things like Facebook can inhibit social skills, particularly verbal social skills, and really shut people down to outward forms of communication if their utilization of social networking sites is not monitored or used in moderation.”
Pazak added that social networks can become an addiction, though teenagers may not realize it until it is too late. She said parents should emphasize the importance of being well-rounded and continue to talk to their children about the importance of socializing and/or participating in sports or extracurricular activities.
“We need to continue to set value in face-to-face personal relationships, with parents leading by example,” Pazak said. “Positive examples start in the home, but punishing with outright elimination of the site or game usually doesn’t work. All or nothing doesn’t work.”
With the negatives of social networks in mind, first lady Michelle Obama has decided not to let her daughters—both under the age of 13—to use sites such as Facebook.
Some parents in Laguna Niguel have already or are setting limits on how their children can use Facebook.
Donna Sellers said her 17-year-old son has used Facebook for nearly three years—but with conditions.
The teen uses the site to stay in contact with friends at school. “It’s a great tool for him," said Sellers, "because he is home more than your average teenager, and it allows him to interact more with kids that he doesn’t necessarily see all the time. It is a good avenue for communication that way.”
However, once he got a Facebook account, he had to abide by family rule that posting inappropriate content was prohibited and that he had to be “friends” with both parents so they could see what was posted on his personal page.
“Our main focus has always been that he needs to be cognizant of the fact that once something is posted on there, it never goes away,” said Sellers. “That is to say, watch what you do.”