One Washington-based pediatrician is quoted as saying that the arena of social media is "the world's largest cocktail party." With 74% of kids in grades 7-12 reporting they have a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook, it's one heck of a party out there.
So it's no surprise that pediatricians worry about the short term effects as well as the long term effect on our brains. Dr Susan Greenfield from the Institute for the Future of the Mind at Oxford Martin School, Oxford, England says:
"It's a given that it will affect the brain, because the human brain adapts to whatever environment it's placed in. If you're in an environment as different as the cyberworld is from the real world, I don't think there is any question that we'll adapt to it. The big question is, How will we adapt to it? Is it good or bad? What can we do about it?"
Dr Michael Rich of Boston Children's Center on Media and Child Health hosts a blog called "Ask the Mediatrician" on parental concerns over media and health. "Social media," he says, "fundamentally alter how we interact with other people. There is as much an upside to social media use as there are cautionary tales. Social media can be particularly empowering for kids who are marginalized or minority groups of any kind. It is a wonderful environment for connecting with 'people like me.'"
Closer to home, I have started to work hard on ways to help parents frame these issues in the same way they have evolved rules and mores around driving, alcohol and other high risk behaviors. Working in conjunction with Gerald Stern of WOW Production Services we have developed an efficient, accessible and inexpensive class that parents can attend to bring them quickly up to speed. Sitting at a computer terminal, they sign on to a Facebook page if they don't have one and in under two hours they learn to navigate all the privacy settings and learn to understand the amazing appeal it has for our children. They also begin to understand ways to make social media work for them and their family.
It's truly a WOW/AHA experience. If you and some friends wish to organize such an evening, please contact me or Gerald.
image by Retrevo.com via GoogleImages