“Honestly, I sometimes truly wish that ‘tools’ such as the iPhone (or any smartphone), laptops, iPads, tablets, etc. hadn’t been invented. Sure, they’re great, incredibly useful, and fun time-killers. But the way teenagers abuse them, and turn them into mini social control rooms is frankly awful.”
At first glance, you might think this quote came from a parent or grandparent lamenting on the disadvantages of social networking and how social media has doomed today’s children. But it was written by a Seattle-area tenth grader as part of an assignment to answer the question, “How has online social networking influenced your relationships with friends and family?”
This student goes on to write, “The teenage way of life has completely changed from what it was only twenty years ago. Now, there is a dramatic decrease in face-to-face communication, which reduces our generation’s ability to interact with others on a speaking level.”
Not coincidentally, this same message was echoed by the young people interviewed in Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation. Youth engaged in their communities claim that face-to-face interactions is what motivates them to make a difference in the world.
This is a two-part article gleaned from reviewing the essays of a class of tenth graders, with their permission, of course. It is meant to generate additional discussion on the benefits and disadvantages of social networking and its effect on healthy youth development.
Below are the most discussed disadvantages of social networking according to these tenth graders, including quotes from their essays. In a similar format, you can also read reflections on the benefits of social networking in my column at Psychology Today.
10 Disadvantages of Social Networking
1. Lacks Emotional Connection
“A couple weeks ago, one of my friends and I got into a fight and she told me all of her feelings as to why she ignored me for two weeks. Assuming it would have been really hard to say it to my face, she sent me a text message. The negative side was I didn’t know if she truly felt sorry because I didn’t hear it from her. The quality of a conversation using social media is awful because you cannot sense the emotion or enthusiasm from the other person. It makes you wonder if they actually mean what they say.”
2. Gives People a License to be Hurtful
“I do think it has gotten to an extreme point where you can say things you can’t say or get away with in person.”
“I’m disappointed whenever I hear about social media being used as a way to hurt people. I wonder if this happens when the writers forget that there are real people behind the screen.”
3. Decreases Face-to-Face Communication Skills
“Computer reliance could hurt a person’s ability to have a face to face conversation by making it awkward and unusual to hear something and respond with a thoughtful message through the spoken word because of one’s dependence on a keyboard to convey a message.”
4. Conveys Inauthentic Expression of Feelings
“Social media conversations today are filled with “haha”, “LOL”, and other exclamations that are meant to represent laughter. This shorthand has become second nature and is often used when the sender is not even smiling, much less laughing, in real life. On the occasion that our “roflcopter” is actually put to use at a funny moment, we are replacing actual laughter with, in this case, a simple ten-letter acronym. According to Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, the actual physical act of laughter, and not the abstract idea of something being funny, is what makes laughing feel so good. If we are so willing to replace the act that, honestly, we all love, with an artificial, typed representation that doesn’t even bring the same joy, what else would we be, potentially subconsciously, willing to exchange?”
5. Diminishes Understanding and Thoughtfulness
“Since the inception of social networking, the quality of conversations has dropped. I believe that people are spending so much time online that they don’t always understand the feeling, emotion and/or character of the person they are talking to. When you talk to someone through a message or even a voice, you can’t always fully understand them.”
“Social networking has ruined the thoughtfulness in basically saying hello in person. For instance, you could say hello to your friend in Germany with Facebook, chat in seconds; but what if there was no way to communicate via social networking? Well you would have to write them a letter and that is something very thoughtful.”
6. Causes Face-to-Face Interactions to Feel Disconnected
“When I see my friends on their phones and I am around them, I feel disconnected even though we are only two feet apart….. Unfortunately, sometimes friends use their phones so much that it is difficult to have an actual conversation with them. Sometimes friends can get so socially attached to something such as a blog or gaming console that they lose touch with friends, creating small gaps and holes in close friendships/relationships.”
7. Facilitates Laziness
“The new socially active era causes laziness because instead of running to your friends you can message them. Or instead of walking upstairs to notify the family of dinner, I can blog it. Social networking makes life so convenient that it creates laziness. In my opinion staying fit is important, but it is difficult to go beyond the newly developed status quo.”
“It’s really easy to spend hours doing nothing….It’s a fantastic way to waste time.”
8. Creates a Skewed Self-Image
“We tell ourselves lies about ourselves and develop something we are not. We post pictures of us looking perfect and share the good news. We never post pictures of ourselves when our dog dies, when someone we love leaves, and when we lose a job. We never share the bad news that always clouds our lives. We all develop this perfect image of ourselves and some of us actually try to rely on this imaginative thought we have of ourselves instead of staying true to who we are.”
9. Reduces Family Closeness
“Texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail alienate us from our families more than we actually think it does…. When my family is spending family time together and watching a movie, in reality my brother and I are on our phones rather than actually watching the movie with our parents.”
10. Causes Distractions
“When I have my phone out, it makes me feel like nothing else is going on around me. I use social media as a way to feel popular, important, and also just to fit in. My friends and I always compare ourselves to each other, wondering who has more Facebook friends or Twitter followers. But what really ends up happening is I begin to talk less and end up relying on text for a conversation. Ever since I got a smartphone I have been distracted from everything. I watch television less, do homework less, and even spend less time with my friends and family.”
Addressing the Disadvantages of Social Networking
The disadvantages of social networking and social media will be studied for decades to come. The 10th-grade essays used for this article are five years old now but they could easily have been written today.
In the last five years, social media has proven to be a significant source of concern among privacy advocates, particularly with concerns over how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data. Parents have become increasingly worried about their children’s safety online and how to protect their personal data.
But clearly, the disadvantages of social networking go much deeper than privacy and safety. These high school students described some of the serious drawbacks to relationships and mental health — foundations of human development.
In the past several years, more studies have linked social media to poor mental health. According to a recent Forbes article, several studies have not only shown a correlation but also a causation. Findings suggest that people who limit social media to 30 minutes daily feel significantly better than those who use social media for longer periods of time. By reducing time spent, people were able to reduce depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Recent statistics from the Pew Research Center show that social networking usage has remained unchanged in the past four years. This may suggest a saturation point has been reached. It may also be a hopeful sign that people are learning to manage social media in healthier ways; or at least they don’t show an insatiable appetite for more. In addition, most people don’t trust news from social networking sites–only 5% of U.S. adults have a lot of trust in this information.
Among Americans from 12-34 years old, Facebook usage declined from 79% in 2017 to 62% today. The only social network growing among U.S. youth is Instagram, up from 64% to 66% in the past two years.
Researchers suggest that helping children and teens learn to manage social networking is paramount to their healthy development. Most experts agree that parents must lead the way by setting a good example of what healthy computer usage looks like. Family meetings are a great venue to discuss social networking and computer usage with the whole family and get buy-in for solutions.
Listed below are some helpful articles that can spark conversations in your family:
- How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers, published by the Child Mind Institute
- Managing Teen Social Media Use, published by the Clark Psychology Group
- Tips on How to Limit Excessive Screen Time, published by BBC Health
—-A special thanks to the students who contributed their voices to this article.
(This article was originally published June 16, 2014. It was updated with new research and information and republished Sept. 6, 2019.)
Published: September 6, 2019Tags: character strengths, cyberbullying, empathy, happiness, learning, media, moral development, parenting, positive youth development, technology