Thursday, January 26, 2012

Social Networking and Children

            Isabelle won’t go to school today.  Her parents can’t understand her sudden withdrawal from her education, goals and friends at the local high school.  What started out as missing a day or two a semester is now up to skipping more days than she attends.  Isabelle’s parents are at a loss as to why their one straight A, very active, social daughter is refusing to finish her senior year of high school.   What they do not know is that when they allowed Isabelle to set up a Facebook account, something unimaginable started.  Their very active popular daughter began to be harassed by other students via the internet.  While social networking and the internet are in many ways an innovative way to keep in touch with others and network, there is a dark side that many parents are not aware is out there. 

            Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, and other similar sites, also known as social networking site, have become part of a daily routine for the millions of users that have flocked to these sites since their introduction (Boyd and Ellison, 2007).   Adults, teenagers, elderly and even preteen and elementary aged children are signing up for the services.  Social networks allow for individuals to meet and interact with others they would never have the chance to normally (Livingstone, 2006).  However, the effects on children using these sites are not readily known by all parents that allow their sons and daughters to engage in activities on these networks. 

            Children are being negatively affected at school by what is known as cyber-bullying that takes place on Facebook and other social networking sites (Welker, 2011).  Just like Isabelle, many young adults and children are being bullied on line.  The harassment may take the form of fake profiles built, emails sent, or through the chat programs within the networking sites.  Many times children do not know how to deal with the negativity so they ignore it, hoping it will go away.  They are embarrassed, scared or confused, so nothing is done to stop it.  In cases like Isabelle’s, where the child is too confused or scared to even tell her parents, the child is withdrawing from school and friends.  The irony of this is the site was supposed to enhance social networking and it is causing the child to actually revert into a non-social individual.  Even without bullying there are effects on children allowed using these sites. 

            When a child socializes primarily on line through chat and other programs, there is a loss of social interaction skills that one needs in real life situations.  In real life a child or adult cannot choose to “log out” when a discussion or incident gets too heated.  The ability to do this on line does not develop skills our young adults need to be functioning adults in society.  There must be a balance, initated by parents, between the two forms of socializing. 

            Isabelle is just one of thousands of school-aged children being affected by social networking.  There are positive outcomes of social networking that are readily seen and applauded.  However, we must also look at the darker side of these sites and internet use by young people as well as adults, before we can make a definitive analysis of the worth of such sites.
@2012 KAR