Social media sites like Facebook connect users with old friends, new acquaintances and everyone in between. However, studies are revealing an inverse link with online connections and deeper, face-to-face relationships.
Norwegian researchers recently developed a test for networking sites, called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, which likens inordinate amounts of time spent on the networking site to drug and alcohol abuse. The test measures how often people use the site, if they do so to forget their problems and how using the site negatively affects their personal and working lives.
Researchers found the following groups of people most at risk for Facebook addiction:
• Women, who are more social than men.
• Young people, who are more tech savvy than older people.
• Anxious or socially insecure people.
“Social media, and the new emphasis on the importance of ‘multitasking,’ have helped drive a wedge between family members,” says psychologist Gregory L. Jantz, author of #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking (www.drgregoryjantz.com).
Ironically, people become less social the more time they spend on social sites, and they tend to get less done while multitasking because they do not focus on completing one task at a time, he says.
“When people abuse drugs and alcohol, they are trying to feel better, yet they are worsening their situation. We’re finding this is also true for those who spend excessive amounts of time on social networking sites,” he says. “Perhaps the hardest hit from social media addiction is the family unit.”
Parents should monitor their own time online to ensure it’s not further limiting the already shrinking amount of time available with their children, Jantz says. And they need to safeguard their children by monitoring their time, as well. Jantz suggests these questions for parents to ask themselves in gauging their kids’ media usage:
• How much time do your kids spend with various forms of media? There are plenty of distractions from homework. Estimate how much time your child spends with the television, internet, social networking sites, cell phone, Blu-rays and game systems. The more time spent with media, the lower a child’s academic performance, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
• How much time do your kids spend with you versus online media? Remember, simply being in the same room isn’t necessarily interacting. The less the scales tip in favor of human-to-human interaction, the more likely there may be a problem.
• Do you know how each device works and how it can be used? Familiarity with your children’s gadgets gives you a better perspective of what their habits may be like.
• What are the consequences of their tech habits, and what should be changed? Make a list of the good and the bad consequences of your family’s technology use. After comparing the two lists, consider changes that can turn negatives into positives.
“Technology continues at its accelerating pace, and we are in unchartered territory,” Jantz says. “Increasingly, social networking infiltrates our personal lives, but we need to remember that it is created to serve us, and not the other way around.”
Gregory Jantz has more than 25 years experience in mental health counseling and is the founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources.