Straight Talk Advice

May 21, 2013

Is Facebook use slacking off?

Dear Straight Talk: A middle school teacher friend of mine says he’s noticed his students are less interested in Facebook. My 16- and 19-year-old are constantly on Facebook, which drives me crazy, as a father, because I feel it distracts them from focusing deeply on anything substantial. What does the panel say? Is there a slacking off? — Hoping It's True In Santa Ana, Calif.

Matt 19, Boston, Mass. Ask me a question

I’ve seen a slight decline in Facebook use, too. Unfortunately, there’s no decline in social media in general. Users have just shifted to Instagram, Twitter, Vine, etc. — partly due to all the parents, adults and snoopy employers on Facebook.

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

The pie is being shared with Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, SnapChat, even DeviantART, along with myriad instant-messaging apps for smartphones. So, no slacking off. In fact, social networking is young people’s most frequent “social” activity. It’s great for keeping up with friends and spreading awareness about issues, but most focus on trivia. I worry that people can’t focus deeply enough to affect life for the better.

Savannah 19, Amherst, Mass. Ask me a question

This is the AGE of social media! It’s more prevalent than ever. Those burnt out on Facebook are using Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest (mostly girls), Tumbler and others.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

First there was Myspace. By 2006, everyone was on Facebook. Now we’ve branched out to what expresses us best. The class clowns hang around on Reddit, the girls who used to post food and flower pictures are on Pinterest or Instagram, gossip girls are busy retweeting snooki on Twitter, promiscuous kids usually hang around MeetMe (formerly MyYearbook), Farmville players, who annoyed everyone with their invites, joined the PlayStation network, and those enjoying a good laugh are on Tumblr. There are plenty more sites, but these are the most popular locally.

Currently, I use Facebook (less), Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn (ouch, I feel middle-aged!), MySpace to support a band occasionally, and email for all professional communication. I love Tumblr. There’s no drama, no 13-year-olds bragging, “3 wksz til im indewsed!” (an exact status I saw on Facebook, which was pretty alarming).

There’s a slight uptick in kids hanging out at malls again. You can send your friends only so much stuff on Candy Crush Saga before you realize your life is outrageously boring. Note: Introverts have more online profiles than extroverts who are busy maintaining IRL [in-real-life] popularity.

Sarah 15, Monclova, Ohio Ask me a question

Facebook is definitely less popular with teens. All I see are posts from parents, relatives and adult friends. At my school, it’s Twitter! It's easy to write a quick, witty tweet with your smartphone, and everyone’s CONSTANTLY checking to see the latest. Also popular is Instagram for sending pictures via our phones. We thought Facebook was distracting! These two sites are even more addicting and hazardous for homework and free time. Email is in the past unless it’s for school and other official things.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

I’m not sure if I use Facebook less because I’m busier or I’m simply tired of it. In my middle-school days, creating an online identity was new and exciting; now, it’s a given.

Dear Hoping: You heard it from the source. Frankly, many young people share your worries and want help controlling this extremely seductive medium so they can develop their IRL (in-real-life) identity. (The stronger this is, the happier the teen.) Some ideas for teens: stick with or revert to dumbphones and desktops, keep desktops in a central household location and enforce a no-social-networking-till-homework-is-finished rule — all while cheerfully espousing the benefits of boredom and not getting one’s way. They will be ahead of the curve — and so will society.

Editor's Note: “IRL” — in-real-life. Isn’t it amazing that kids today even have this acronym? A friend always tells the story of how the laptop ruined his family life. His high school-age kids were suddenly holed up in their bedrooms having their own private virtual lives. The once-vibrant family communication stopped and things became strangely quiet for a house with two teenagers. Soon, not seeing each other very much became the “new normal.” Insisting upon a family computer station just off the kitchen or in the living room would’ve prevented this.

It’s not just laptops. Now we have tablets and smartphones, and pretty soon we’ll have computers embedded into our foreheads (that’s a joke, it probably will be our forearms, and that sadly isn't a joke). None of this is good news for children — or teens — whose bodies are growing, whose brains are literally dissolving and re-growing in an epic neurological redevelopment project, and whose social life drives their every move. All these things, physical vitality, intelligence, and social life are negatively affected by being allowed to throw away over 30 percent of one's waking formative years (I did the math), to trivial pursuits on a flat screen. 

This is without encountering sex offenders, gaming addictions, internet bullying and pornography. The incidence of erectile dysfunction in men under 26 is unprecedented in history. The recent TED talk, “The Great Porn Experiment,” gives hope for boys who go porn free.

All these problems are eliminated or reduced significantly if kids are given dumbphones (which we should rebrand as prettysmartphones, because they can call, text, and take photos), if mobile internet devices (tablets, laptops, smartphones) are reserved for parents, and if the family computer(s) are set up in a public area of the house (not the kids' bedrooms). This isn’t about not trusting your child with the internet, it’s about not trusting the internet with your child. It's about letting your child actually have a childhood.

It's about replacing the typical 30,000 hours of screen time that the average kid wastes by age 18, with IRL experiences that send them into adulthood physically strong, with plenty of time to have thought deeply about their school lessons and problem-solved a variety of situations on their own. Their brain has completed its redevelopment phase with flying colors, it has executive functions, its dopamine and endorphin mechanisms are resilient making addiction less common than it has become. They’ve learned the give-and-take required for IRL friendships, and have become really good at useful things (10,000 hours being the time needed to master something) — all while experiencing parents who didn't let them get their way (thank you!) and having periods of boredom (which we now know are essential for creativity, philosophy, and problem solving). Oh, and boys, protected from internet porn, have learned real-girl intimacy instead of losing their "other" executive function to their left hand (a reference to the TED talk above).

In the world according to Lauren (and many pediatricians, teachers and philosophers), the best childhoods (age 0-14) have almost no screen time, the best teen years (age 14-18) have screen time with supervision and limits (the family computer station). Starting around age 18, I believe smartphones and laptops are fine. If children are given a chance to grow up naturally, I believe we can handle the computer age effectively and constructively. Right now, it is handling us. And the results across the spectrum of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual health aren’t pretty. —Lauren

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  1. By Chris, age , from Sacramento, CA on 05/24/2013

    I believe our world would be so different if more families gave their kids a media-free upbringing. I know a family who was having so much trouble with their son. He was 13 at the time and was very ADD (my diagnosis), edgy, irritable, talking back, not obeying the rules, and the only thing that calmed him down was isolating himself in front of TV or video games. The parents couldn’t get him to do anything but play those games and his grades were dropping at school. First they set boundaries on the screen time, but when that didn’t work, they decided to go “media free” to see what would happen. They got rid of their TV, got rid of his computer, and he was no longer allowed to use their computers or iPhones. Within 3 or 4 months, the transformation was nothing short of amazing. He didn’t even seem like the same kid! He was social and engaging, interested in life, had projects and always playing outdoors—a place he seemed to avoid before. He seemed genuinely happy and engaged in life for the first time that I’d known him, which had been since he was about 10.

    I think our society has no idea life could be anything different because we’re all living in a fishbowl of daily hi-stimulation screen time. Most people have NEVER experienced being screen free, so they have no idea what a difference it makes. Especially for a growing child. Thanks, Lauren, for continually promoting this. Most people don’t believe it really matters, but I SAW the before and after firsthand!

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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 06/12/2013

    Chris—Thank you so much for sharing this story! Our society is indeed in a fish bowl. You can hardly find kids raised media free, or who had the plug pulled, to do a comparison. Many parents actually think they are being responsible to make their toddlers computer literate! Indeed, we are deep in the fishbowl.

    Last generation, a parent could just say “turn that thing off ” and shoo anyone loafing in front of the family TV outside. Today all the mobile devices we provide our kids make it impossible to turn “it” off, much less monitor what of “it” our kids are watching. While most parents wouldn’t think of letting their 11-year-old wander the red-light district of Bangkok alone, they unwittingly let them wander, in droves, those same streets on the Internet.  Indeed, the fishbowl is getting more and more fishy.

    I personally had a before-and-after experience growing up. We were media free until 7th grade when my mom remarried and we got a big TV set. Honestly, it ruined our family life! Suddenly we sat quietly in the evenings and watched TV instead of all the creative, active things we had formerly done together. (Believe me, if you’re out of the fishbowl, you see what a downgrade this is.) 

    Once I was on my own, I went TV-free and raised my four kids without TV or computers until they were in high school. They were definitely very alive at all levels! (And so easy to raise and feed because I didn’t have the commercial media competing with my authority.) The difference between living on the outside versus the inside of the fishbowl was obvious to all who experienced them. I used to have babysitters need to sit and talk with me, sometimes for hours, they were so stimulated by experiencing kids who actually PLAYED together.

    I welcome any testimonials from those outside the fishbowl who have similar stories.—Lauren

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