When Facebook was launched, it was originally limited to the students at Harvard and a select group of colleges. It grew and grew, and its college requirement was eliminated. These days kids as young as 13 can have a Facebook account, and in the U.S., they most likely do. Now headlines are screaming that Facebook might cause teen depression.
The headlines are misleading. Dr. Megan Moreno, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin, cautions parents to read beyond the headlines. There is no evidence that Facebook, “is going to somehow infect their kids with depression,” she says. “A lot of what’s happening is actually very healthy,” she adds, noting how the site helps adolescents stay connected and bond with their peers.
The real problems are that teens can be moody and they are at a stage where they are seeking social acceptance. Teens also believe that Facebook provides them with a quantitative measurement of their popularity based on the number of “friends” they have. Pediatrician Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe compares it to being the kid left to sit alone in the school cafeteria.
Furthermore, Facebook communication eliminates context for teens, which they would otherwise find in real life interpersonal communications. For example, it is harder to interpret the context of a text message such as, “Ur so lame!” or “I h8 u,” without seeing if the person saying it is frowning or smiling, winking or glaring, speaking in a friendly voice or responding in anger.
Then there is the social pressure to be as “active” as other friends, whose lives read like an open book. Finally, there are problems with harassment and cyber bullying.
Facebook does not cause depression, but it creates an alternative forum for adolescents to call their self-worth into question. If those kids are already prone to depression, the problem could be exacerbated.