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Facebook Tied to Poor Mental Health in Teens, Kids?

You know it’s a good time of the year for psychology “news” when the American Psychological Association holds its annual convention. Why? Because they push out a bunch of sexy press releases about presentations at the conference.

Case in point, “Social Networking’s Good and Bad Impacts on Kids,” a presentation that presents a seemingly-random selection of research findings about social networking websites like Facebook from the past few years.

This quickly gets turned into an exclusive focus on the negative aspects of the talk — “Facebook tied to poor mental health in teens: What parents must know” (CBS News), “Too Much Technology Breeds Health Problems in Teens” (, and of course the inevitable, “Is constant ‘Facebooking’ bad for teens?” ( Talk about making a mountain out of not even a molehill (since this wasn’t new research, just a summary of what we already know).

Absent from all of the news reporting is context, as usual. So-called journalists simply take what is said at the conference or in the APA press release, consider it factual, and report on it accordingly.

7 Comments to
Facebook Tied to Poor Mental Health in Teens, Kids?

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  1. Having actually been there, I’m not sure what you are referring to, as I read & re-read a literal transcript of Symposium # 3378, titled:POKE ME: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm our Kids. The presentation was strong on demographics as presented by Pew International and other well-respected surveyors. His teenage daughter was in the audience nodding as he joked how teens effortlessly go from modality to modality, how he’ll text her to say he’s going to phone her. He presented side by side graphs of a few demographic waves (“Baby boomers”, GenX, GenC) and in general it was sort of a gee, whiz, the word is rapidly changing and there is generational shifting in terms of what is “normal”.

    If anything, Dr. Rosen was leaning much more on the side of the positives, or just the facts of modern life, I thought. Although I was delighted when he referenced in fact the work of Sparrow (Columbia) and Terkel (MIT). This was the issue of cognitive efficiency in group memory, relating to the of the prevalent phenomenon of people learning where to access information on-demand rather than rote-memorizing onto one’s own solitary “internal hard drive” (aka, brain).

    That said, I totally agree that the press and blogbuzz tend to pick up on the scare-stories and blow up the importance of one or another “interesting suggestion” in the data to proof positive of some epidemic or danger.

    I had no prior knowledge of Rosen, no reason to defend or pile on. But having been there and experienced the presentation, audience questions, etc., I cannot imagine that this writer was actually there, and if so may be guilty of the same crime of making a huge mountain of some single molehill statement.

    FWIW – I wondered about your “doh” portrayal of APA and followed the link above (“narcissism”) but it leads to a PsychCentral opinion piece and does not present anything about APA – would love to see the “evidence” here too! 😉

    I thought this was a great presentation among several truly 21st Century topic presentations, finally drawing large crowds as the APA tries to itself get up to speed, and sponsors presentations such as this, which bridge generations.

    • Dr Mike, this was in reference to the APA press release about the talk, and the news media’s portrayal of information from that release; not the talk itself (I never claimed I was at the talk).

      You have to really question that if the release had so little connection to the reality of the talk itself, what planet the person who authorized and approved that release is on. Since I wasn’t at the talk, I can only go on what the APA tells me the talk was about. And then how the rest of the media portrays that information.

      BTW, if this is the way the APA portrays its own plenary talks and tries to “get up to speed” in the 21st century, I think someone should be seriously re-evaluating how they talk to the media. Because this kind of portrayal is catering to the very worst characteristics of the intersection of human behavior and technology.

      The release is linked to at the end of the article, as has been our convention here for 10 years.

    • Hello to all and a special thanks to Dr. Mike for reporting on what i said not what was misconstrued in the press release (which i did not write). My approach toward all of this is that we are building a case slowly about both the good and the bad aspects of social networking. As you well know i have been studying the “psychology of technology” since 1984 and am a careful researcher who never relies on a single study or single result in making my case. And yes, it is somewhat controversial about the impact of FB and we are trying to tease that out. I note that the issue of virtual empathy, which I talked about a lot as a major positive, gets omitted from most press articles even though it was in the press release. In fact, one of my students reported in a poster a model showing a moderate to strong predictive link from virtual empathy to real-world empathy.

      THanks for listening and keep up the good, no make that great, work John. Although we have only met in the real world a couple of times I feel that I know you virtually.

  2. Great post John,
    I’m pretty sure we wont know the true implications of social networking websites and more immersive internet use till later in the future. For now these case studies are helpful, but like you said they’re just points on a graph we’re going to need a lot more research. The connection of technology and most aspects of who are seems inevitable.

  3. Well with starting with I am the mother of four daughters ranging in ages from 13-24 and a returning student majoring in Counseling Psychology, Facebook has been an issue in my house for several reasons. As with anything concerning raising children the main thing is moderation, whether your talking technology or candy, no mater the topic. I did put a hold on my younger two on getting their Facebook pages because the older of the two had been bullied for three years at school and I did not want to open up another avenue, But, I did sit down with her and explain this and told her that when she felt she was ready she could come to me and tell me and she would be able to, which she did when she became a Freshman in Highschool. Her younger sister had authority issues, as in she felt she was the one in authority, so she had to earn hers, which she eventually did. But, they both have time limits on the computer unless it is involving school work. But in regard to the media, they are always looking for the hook, and the positive of anything is just not it. Confrontation and negativity always sells and gets people all twisted by trying to defend an issue that really should not be an issue. Technology is a necessary evil. Yes at times it is annoying, and people take advantage of it and use it to harm others, but the same can be said for just about anything that has been developed or invented throughout history.

  4. One of the reasons Facebook contributes to my own anxiety (I’m an adult) is that it’s just another venue for communication, and communication is a problem area for me. I sweat bullets wondering if so-and-so is going to respond to my friend request, I get annoyed when no one is posting on my wall or sending me a message or liking something I’ve posted. Facebook, like email, is just another forum for social rejection for me. A lot of times the interaction can be positive, but because rejection is one of my issues, FB aggravates it. I was surprised that the article didn’t address that particular aspect of the technology.

  5. Great dialog. While I cannot speak to research, I do liken Facebook and Social Medias to be like chainsaws.

    They are dangerous if we do not teach people how to use them correctly.

    Certainly, anything can be dangerous and anything can cause “cancer” without moderation and skills being taught.

    Simply put, we have to care about the tools and people in order to keep everyone safe and use the tools to their fullest extent.

  6. Another example of how data can be interpreted differently, depending on the purpose. Like most other things that have been viewed negatively (too much TV watching, too much video game playing, etc.) it’s really all about moderation. Sure, it’s probably not healthy to use Facebook for twelve hours a day but the medium has benefits too.

  7. Facebook doesn’t just cause mental illness and depression in teens. I found out my ex husband was having an affair and actually proposed to this woman all on facebook. I was never allowed to say anything. Now I have a bad depression and not allowed to talk.

  8. Why defend facebook? Why use facebook if it ever creates even one single issue for you, or anyone?

    Facebook is most often compared to crack. Some things are no good, even in moderation.

    Get a life. Get off facebook.



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