My general sense of this, as a mother of three kids and an observer of the human condition, is that we’re not able to say that a teen’s time spent on a social network is either wholly good or wholly bad. Each human is a different case. And our social needs are changing throughout our adolescence. Does a child become depressed from their online activities or are they already depressed and seek out more online relationships and pastimes? And as time goes on and their maturity increases, will those sad feelings go away or intensify? A popular teen, a so-called social “connector” may find that having their offline relationships documented online is very satisfying and reassuring. Or your teens may bounce from being happy with what goes on in their social networks to feeling sad or upset.
There’s no doubt, for a child who is getting left out of social events, it will be painful to see the photos or see online chatter posted by those who were there. Any adult might feel that way when someone they know goes to a great concert or takes an exotic vacation. Let’s not confuse clinical depression with simply feeling momentarily sad. Depression is a much greater worry and isn’t caused by a single event.
Another article indicates that depressed children are targets for bullying. Something to bear in mind before you blame technology for our children’s problems.
My advice to parents is to pay attention, as you do already, to the mood of your child and the amount of time spent online. Ask yourself questions about how their online time seems to affect them. Are they moody after being on their social network? Do they avoid social situations with their peers? Are their grades being impacted negatively? Or do they seem to maintain their offline relationships well and are fully part of your family’s normal routine?
If your child still has good friends they spend time with offline, gets to school on time and gets their work done, shows up to family dinners and is playful with the dog, I would guess things are fine. Should you be concerned about your child’s behavior, don’t make the mistake of blaming the Internet or the computer. Talk to your pediatrician. Seek counseling or psychiatric care for any behavioral issues that give you alarm.