I just read in the NY Times that a new study was presented last week by the American Public Health Association in Denver that indicates teens who spend most of their time on social network sites, like Facebook, or texting are at risk for certain behavior problems.
The researchers indicated that teens are at a higher risk of unprotected sex, smoking, depression, missing school, eating disorders and substance abuse. This came after the researchers presented questions to about 4,000 students in a variety of high schools in Ohio.
The findings showed that approximately one tenth of the students spent at least three hours on social networking sites and one fifth would send at least 120 text messages on a daily basis. About 4% of the students did both and that increased their risk of behaviors like binge drinking, suicidal thoughts and fighting.
So why is it that when teens engage heavily in this technology, it increases the odds of being involved in negative behavior? Some experts believe it is because kids are trying harder to fit in with their peers. They also think that by engaging in these risky behaviors, they are going to be seen as “cool.”
I’m not entirely sure if that is the direct link between lots of time spent on social network sites and texting with risky behavior. But I do think that one of the other concerns makes a lot of sense. They found that most of the teens that spent a great deal of time texting and on these social network sites had more permissive parents. In other words, parents weren’t doing a very good job at monitoring their children.
Anything we put in the hands of a teen can become dangerous. I mean, really think about that. You hand your teen a set of keys to the car and it can become dangerous if they speed or drink while driving. You hand your teen a cell phone and it can become dangerous if they send naked pictures of themselves. You hand your teen the computer and it can become dangerous if they meet a pedophile on the internet. I mean, the list could go on.
I think the point I am trying to make is that as parents we can’t just hand anything over to our teens. Even the most trivial thing can become a problem when we aren’t looking. We have to be parents who talk before we hand anything over. It must all come as a privilege to our children that not only must they earn those things but they must continue to earn them on a daily basis. One slip up and they need to know the rules will change.
Texting and social network sites in and of themselves are not the problem. The risky behavior comes in when parents fail to monitor their children. However, even the best parents can do all they can and yet a teen may still choose to do the wrong thing.
Yet there are many ways we can at least guide our children to do the right thing. Talk to your teen. Monitor your teen. Ask questions and be informed.