Is more time on Facebook degrading face-to-face talk among teens?
The pimples. The braces. The ill-timed growth spurt. The teen years can be awkward. But add the fact that nowadays they often communicate via text or Facebook message, and socializing in person becomes even more difficult. "We don’t really talk on the phone," says fifteen-year-old Chris Rieger. "It’s really not a popular thing."
Instead, the Providence High freshman estimates he spends about five hours a day on Facebook after school is out. "I talk more on Facebook than on the phone," he says, adding that some of his friends actually skip activities, preferring instead to make sure they don’t miss a single status update on Facebook. (According to Insidefacebook.com, the teen demographic makes up 12 percent of the site’s 350 million users.) Rieger has noticed that because of Facebook and text messaging, a lot of kids his age don’t know how to act around each other. "People don’t know how to talk anymore. They’re really outgoing on Facebook, but in person they don’t have very good social skills. They can’t hold a conversation with anybody."
Too much Facebook and text messaging means teens are relying too much on technology to communicate, therefore stunting their socialization skills, says Melinda Harper, an assistant psychology professor at Queens University of Charlotte. In her practice Harper works mostly with teens, and she says she has a couple patients who are outright addicted to Facebook. "Kids are choosing to spend time in their bedrooms or wherever the computer is located and spending excessive amounts of time on the site. It can be isolating from family and other friends," she says. "Social skills rely on interaction, and doing it through a computer is not the way to build them," she says.
While Harper says she doesn’t expect these teens to grow up into a society of mutes, she does think they need to be more aware of their online behavior. "What is posted online can go farther than they initially intended, and can easily be misinterpreted because they’re unable to comment in person on the intended message," she says adding that it also leads to creating a less efficient adult. "They could definitely end up being less productive in other areas of life because they’re too plugged in."