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Health & Parenting

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Facebook: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Social Networking's Impact on Kids' Psychological Health
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 8, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) -- Facebook, texting, and instant messaging have positive and negative psychological impacts on kids, teens, and young adults, according to a leading researcher on social networking.

Although teens that frequently use Facebook often show more narcissistic tendencies, for example, they also may be more empathetic than teens who don't, says Larry D. Rosen, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University in Dominguez Hills.

And although social networking can distract youngsters from studying, it also offers teens and young adults an appealing tool for communication, he tells WebMD.

To concerned parents, Rosen says, "Don't try to secretly monitor or restrain you children's keystrokes. How long do you think it will take them to find a workaround?"

Instead, talk to them about new technologies, he says. "You can learn from your kids, and they will feel reinforced," he says.

At the American Psychological Association meeting here, Rosen outlined his team's computer-based surveys into the risks and benefits of social networking.

Such surveys only show an association between social networking and psychological tendencies, not cause and effect. And you don't know which came first: the psychological traits or the social networking.

First, the Pros

In one new survey of 1,200 teens and young adults, the more time spent on Facebook and instant messaging, the greater their online and real-world empathy, or ability to understand and relate to others' feelings.

David Carlson, PhD, an Oklahoma City psychologist who heard Rosen's talk, tells WebMD he has no doubt that social messaging leads to real-life empathy.

"I see a lot of kids reaching out to friends, showing a lot of caring, online. And that translates to offline," he says.

Another positive: "Facebook help teens to express who they are," Rosen says.

Preliminary results from two recent surveys involving 3,702 people of all ages suggest that people aged 32 and younger use Facebook as a communication tool, much like texting and phone calls, he says.

Online social networking can also make it easier for shy kids and teens to socialize by reaching out to others from a smart device rather than in person, Rosen says.

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