Is Facebook Bad for Teens?


You’ve heard it before: parents groups and educators worldwide are growing more and more concerned regarding children and teens using social networking sites.

But while online social networking shows a great deal of promise in respect to reaching out to teenagers, some critics worry that too much focus on the superficiality of sites, especially Facebook, is potentially detrimental to young girls. In today’s BBC Technology section, Jill Berry, president of the Girls’ Schools Association in the UK, however, expressed that parents should look at the bright side: that girls are expressing their shopaholic sensibilities isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Says Ms. Berry:

“Girls can be highly intelligent and interested in being seen to be attractive – the two aren’t mutually exclusive… Caring about physical appearance and fashion and wanting to look good doesn’t have to be a betrayal of some feminist ideal. I love shoes but it doesn’t make me shallow. Girls can have fun and also be taken seriously.”

Sure, I can get behind that a little. I mean, I’m fashion conscious, but I’m smart, and I know plenty of other women who balance both very well. But what’s disconcerting to me is that Facebook has a way of telling a given population what they should or shouldn’t be into. Because it works on a majority rules basis, young girls are acutely aware of what’s going on around them, even above and beyond what they already experience day-in and day-out at school (where in my opinion, peer pressure and social pecking orders are bad enough). So it can be just another layer of peer pressure, in some cases, in a rather creepy Big Brother way.

No, social networks aren’t inherently bad. I couldn’t disagree more with parents and educators who think they are. I didn’t have Facebook when I was in high school, but during my freshman year of college I was very active on a MUSH (certainly an early kind of social network; I know, I know–not the same thing, but bear with me). And all in all, that was an extremely positive experience because it brought me out of the microcosm of my miserable college existence and introduced me to a variety of geeks from around the globe with common interests. It gave me a well of confidence and taught me to accept myself rather than struggle to be like everyone else. Thank goodness!

But I don’t think Facebook is really good at reinforcing the importance of individuality; at least, that’s not how I see the majority of people using it. Even I have a hard time posting what I really think (unlike with Twitter) because I know everyone’s watching.

Yikes. There are 1,000 reasons I don’t like Facebook, but that’s probably #1. And yes, I realize that part of it is still my problem.

My concern is that Facebook, especially for teens, isn’t exposing them to new ideas. Rather, it’s enforcing old ideas. I mean, I can’t imagine how stressful my already difficult high school years would have been with de-friending and rude wall posts. I know, high school is difficult for everyone; but I sense with the online component it’s getting harder and harder to escape from it at all. And that, indeed, worries me.

Once again it comes down to parents to work with their kids to create boundaries. Because too much internet is never a good thing, no matter what your age. And concerning more impressionable users, I can certainly see how Facebook wouldn’t make life any easier–especially for the ones already struggling to get by.