Are social networks changing kids' brains?

An article in the online edition of The Guardian suggests that following social networks like Bebo, Facebook, and Twitter may be contributing to short attention spans and a lack of identity. Lady Greenfield, an Oxford professor of synaptic pharmacology, expressed concern that the constant flow of updates that characterize social networking sites might contribute to a shorter attention span and a need for instant gratification. She believed that children risk losing empathy by focusing on screen updates to the exclusion of reading novels that allow deeper character exploration. In addition, the “constant reassurance” that one is being listened to and that one’s opinions matter might interfere with identity development. The problem here, I think, is that these networks are a relatively new phenomenon, and I’m not aware of any longitudinal studies yet.

We’ll be talking next week to Dr. David Dutwin, a social science researcher and the author of “Unplug Your Kids: A parent’s guide to raising happy, active, and well-adjusted children in the digital age.” We’ll be sure to ask about social networking!

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2 Responses to Are social networks changing kids' brains?
  1. donkeysdinner
    February 25, 2009 | 10:48 am

    Hi. I would argue that everything is changing kids’ brains. Books change them, people change them, experiences change them, even internal thoughts change them. Each experience has an impact.

    When considering something new like social networks (which facilitates new and frightening changes) we should look at the positives and the negatives. We should then look at how to reduce the negatives and increase the positives.

    It may be tempting to try to shield children from social networks. This decision rests with the parents but should not be taken without a little meaningful research. What is social networking, what effect do I think it will have and will I be able to shield my child from it or would I instead be wiser to educate them about how best to use it?

    Rather than being scared of new developments and avoiding them, parents may need to take responsibility to expose themselves to these environments in order to understand what their children are experiencing.

  2. brianmacdonald
    February 25, 2009 | 12:20 pm

    I agree that kids’ brains are developing and that development is affected by their experience. Personally, I think more research is needed before making sweeping claims about the dangers of social networks like Twitter and Facebook. For my kids, seeing pictures of faraway family members and being able to communicate with them instantly is definitely a positive! I think Doctors Giuseppe and Richard would agree that, as in all things, balance is important. If your child is in front of the computer to the exclusion of other activities, it might be worth looking into it.

    In addition to concerns about the impact of social networks on brain development, surveys have indicated that teens are sharing explicit or suggestive pictures of themselves over Facebook! I think it’s important for parents to educate themselves and their children about the internet, to monitor their kids, and to be clear about their expectations and values.