The Dark Side of Facebook

There is a dark side to social media, within which adolescents and teens are spending more and more time, resulting in what is being called “Facebook Depression” a new term popping up all over the news. Parents and pediatricians have begun to report “Facebook Depression,” in which a teen becomes anxious and moody after spending a lot of time on the popular social networking site. According to a clinical study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in April, teens who participate in social media and networking for prolonged periods of time are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Even though studies show that there is clearly evidence to be an association between the use of social networking and depression, just exactly what the correlation is and what can be done about it is up for continued debate.

For example, there is no bottom line proof that if a teen is using more and more Facebook, that they are going to get more and more depressed. In addition, depressed teens and adolescents use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites. Perhaps because they are already feeling down or depressed they might even be going online to talk to their friends, in an effort to be cheered up. However, many online risks are often just an extension of a teens real- world interactions, and teens with Facebook Depression are often having trouble with social interactions in general.

Why Depression?

As adults on Facebook, we know what it is like to be “friended” and “unfriended” or to not have anyone to respond to a post on your wall. The silence can be maddening for us, but, to a teen, the silence can propel them into a Facebook hell, a realm of cyber space where all silence is interpreted as “no one cares, no one likes me, no one knows I exist,” a repetitive mantra leading to obsessive compulsive logins subsiding only with a healthy dose of wall posts and at least five new friend requests.facebook-addiction-wilderness-therapy

As adolescents and teens, children are vulnerable to any number of emotional responses — and, in some cases even psychological or physical responses to conflict. Facebook itself gives teens a platform upon which to speak which can be healthy. Unfortunately, that privilege is abused by some teens with bullying, sexting, harassment or exposure to inappropriate content. In fact, this past January, a 14-year-old from Orange County, New York, took his own life because of Facebook taunts about his perceived sexualorientation, according to sources.

When a teen or adolescent posts a message on Facebook it becomes “Facebook Official” so, even if it is not true, the fact that it is posted gives it credibility. When something that is “Facebook Official” goes viral, the potential for humiliation is devastating for a teen. It is not the same kind of humiliation that parents experienced in their own adolescence, because the reminder of it is permanently embedded in either text or photos on the internet for anyone to see – potential colleges, employers, friends, relatives boyfriends.

The Bottom Line

As with all of the burgeoning internet related addictions, Facebook obsession and the alternate reality it produces combined with depression could become an addiction of sorts.

There are many complications with communicating over the Internet. Aside from the inability to accurately judge the tone, intention or meaning of another person’s post, there is a certain degree of responsibility that is negated in posting a message via the Internet as opposed to reality. The medium lends itself to making rash, spontaneous or impulsive comments. Also, the immediate response of peers isn’t always available and so the cues to correct unaccepted social behaviors aren’t performing their normal duties of enforcing accountability.

Facebook and other forms of social media do provide outlets for teens yet they do not always guarantee validation or even problem solving venues. The devastating result: co-rumination among peers, and an obsessive tendency to over-examine the negative, which could lead to depression. Adolescent girls are especially at risk because they are more likely to discuss problems – problems with boys, problems with friendships, problems with body image and problems with emotions in general.

What To Do

As I so often find my self saying, “knowledge is power”… workshops, counseling or any venue or format where it is explained to teens what is the reality of Facebook usage and it’s potential for damage can help. Some experts say the responsibility should rest upon the parents who allow teens prolonged usage of mobile phones, iPads, blackberries and computers etc… without providing supervised access at a time in adolescence when teens have not yet fully developed the protective skills of discipline, self-regulation or boundaries. It seems clear that for modern teens and adolescents, technology usage needs to be monitored as the dark side of Facebook and social media provides a gaping entrance for vulnerable teens.


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