Parenting Adolescents — 02 December 2011
Worried about your teenager’s social networking?

The format of social networking in which an online user creates a personal profile and offers his/her availability for friendship has become a phenomenon that has captivated hundreds of millions participants. Many parents are concerned about their teenagers’ style of maintaining contact with their friends.

People need friendships to survive and thrive. Friends help us define ourselves and feel supported and worthy. Aristotle stated, “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

Throughout life, friendships are essential for healthy functioning. Young children need playmates for their social development, teenagers rely on their peer group for creating their self-definition, norm-setting and emotional support and adults need friends for longer healthier lives.

Today, the social network sites are widely used by people of all ages. Amanda Lenhart and Mary Madden report, “55% of teens have used social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook.” And, “91% of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82% use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person.”

Kaveri Subrahmanyam of UCLA found, “Adults use social networking sites to connect with their offline friends and the majority of them report that they only add people who they have met in person.”

It would stand to reason that teenagers are more open to a wider range of new acquaintances, have more time and greater ease with networking and have less safety concerns than adults in adding new members to their circle.

Psychologist Larry Rosen reports research indicating that 54 percent of teens prefer to contact their friends via text messaging compared to talking to them on the phone or even seeing them face-to- face. One in four Facebook users said they see their friends in person more often than before, as compared to one eighth who said they see friends less frequently. Yet, 59 percent of Facebook users feel more connected to people than they did before using a social network.

Dr. Rosen also found that using a social network is positively correlated to online but not offline empathy. “Social Support, online empathy and real-world empathy were positively correlated with spending more time with people face to face.”

If you are worried about the value of your teenagers’ social networking:

¨     Accept that social networking does provide instantaneous social/emotional support to your teen and a sense of belonging, value and importance.

¨     Realize that networking replaced the phone use of previous generations and offers greater self-expression, autonomy and freedom for your child.

¨     Understand that creating one’s profile helps your youngster define him/herself and structure how he/she wishes to be perceived, rather than being defined by peers.

¨     Be pleased that your teenager is better able to feel and express compassion in writing but still encourage more face-to-face contact with friends.

¨     Model and promote expressions of compassion, caring and empathy in person within your family.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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