Facebook, Myspace and Twitter: Evil to Teens

“This technology may be interfering with the normal development of a generation, prolonging the “normal” narcissism of adolescence and preventing the establishment of mature relationships.”

Quiz time!

Does this quote refer to:

  1. Radio
  2. Television
  3. Video games
  4. Facebook, YouTube or Twitter
  5. All of the above
  6. None of the above

If you answered anything other than #5, you’re incorrect.

Although the author of that quote, Lauren D. LaPorta, MD, writing in a recent issue of Psychiatric Times, suggests it is only #4. That suddenly, despite a century of significant technological advances prior to it — including the entire Industrial Revolution! — it is the Internet that’s going to irreparably harm children. By creating a nation of narcissists.

But let’s not stop there… The demonization of the Internet gets better:

Rather than learning critical lessons about emotional sensitivity to others and reciprocity in relationships, our youth are creating alternate, solipsistic realities where they are the focus of attention. Those who do not agree are simply excluded from their inner circle.

And how is that different than normal teenage behavior in the real world? Has the author ever heard of cliques? Have they never lost a friend as a teen due to a difference of opinion or argument over a boyfriend/girlfriend? This doesn’t sound like Internet-caused behavior — this sounds like fairly typical teenage development and growing-up.

Oh, and talking about risky behavior leads to more acting on that risky behavior, right?

Even if it is just so much empty talk, the mere proliferation of these attitudes may produce desensitization. Ultimately, desensitization may encourage the acting out of these behaviors, as we have tragically seen in the case of Columbine and, more recently, the Pennsylvania health club shooting in which the perpetrators posted messages and videos on the Internet before the events.

For support of this argument, the author cites a CNN article that discusses a study about what teens talk about on their Myspace pages. Note, the researchers did not study whether teens engaged in more risky behavior based upon what they talked about. Instead, the authors hypothesize — without any data — that teens may be encouraged to try out the behaviors based upon their talking about them. But without the data, it’s simply an opinion. But Dr. LaPorta reports it as though it were data (and without someone going to the original study, you’d never know that). Columbine is then easily equated to teens posting on their Myspace page.

And suddenly it all becomes clear… Facebook and Twitter and Youtube — they are all, you know, evil!

Here’s the core of LaPorta’s argument — that a whole generation is growing up more narcissistic than previous generations. Is this a new argument? Hasn’t every generation of parents complained of virtually the same thing (but using different examples)? But like prior arguments made against these online tools and services, there’s a set of subtle assumptions being made about the quality of online interactions:

Although baby boomers and members of “Generation X” are signing up for these sites, it is the youth market that drives their appeal. While on the surface, they are touted as venues for networking and communication, they may, ultimately, be eroding real relationships and social contacts much as e-mail, instant messaging and “texting” have replaced cards, letters, and phone calls.[...]

By investing in virtual relationships in cyberspace rather than in the real world, they may be continuing a vicious cycle of empty praise, disingenuousness, and superficiality. The computer screen lacks the nuances of interpersonal interaction but may lead to a false belief that the human needs for love, friendship, and intimacy have been met. [...]

Despite the ultimate hollowness of these relationships, the false belief that one is accepted and important to others frees the individual to pursue more egocentric needs, further driving narcissism.

I find it very interesting that Dr. LaPorta mentions “phone calls,” since my grandparents lamented the advent and widespread use of the telephone causing the downfall of modern youth (in their day), and leading to the decline of Sunday visits and more time spent talking to people face-to-face (the only social interaction they valued). Times, they do change, and some folks who are used to a specific way of interacting may find the change scary and are fearful of it. But the fear is too often irrational.

Real relationships and deep social connections are made everyday online, through social networking websites and other technologies. Sites such as Facebook grow our overall social (and professional) networks, and most people have both close relationships with strong ties and looser affiliations with less connectivity. But these are not black-and-white sites that if a person is engaging with one of them, they must inherently be engaging in lesser-quality relationships.

Tell anyone who’s ever shared their personal health or mental health story on a Facebook group (or other support group online) that they’re just engaging in superficial narcissism. Teens, especially, need others to connect to, to feel like someone understands what they’re going through and is listening. That such sites are always used to promote one’s own navel-gazing, continuing “a disturbing trend that may be continuing to fuel the narcissism of a generation becoming more desperate than ever to maintain their fragile self-esteem.” You can look at these sites much like a Rorschach inkblot test, in that whatever you want to see and find in them, you will.

But if all of this is indeed narcissism, it’s not something new shared just by teens — the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is those above age 35. If these sites promote You as the center of the universe, then they do so for all users, not just teens. This is the new narcissism, the way we now are defining new relationships and friendships. There’s been little evidence to suggest that because teens, specifically, engage and spend more time with these sites, they are — as a whole — becoming more narcissistic and less selfless than teens in the past.

Of course, narcissts are attracted to social networking websites like Facebook as well, so you have a bit of a chicken and egg problem too if you’re not careful in your analysis.

Sadly, the Psychiatric Times website doesn’t allow for comments, so feel free to read the article and come back here for the discussion.

Read the full article: Twitter and YouTube: Unexpected Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement?

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Oct 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2009). Facebook, Myspace and Twitter: Evil to Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/10/08/facebook-myspace-and-twitter-evil-to-teens/

 

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