Can Facebook Ruin Your Child’s Brain?

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In a post on his Guardian blog, Martin Robbins admonishes some flimsy science in an article from the Daily Mail. The title of the article in question pretty much says it all: “Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with child-like need for feedback, warns top scientist.”

The article posits that Twitter, Facebook and even computer games can “rewire” a child’s brain in such a way that “can result in reduced concentration, a need for instant gratification and poor non-verbal skills, such as the ability to make eye contact during conversations.”

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There are a few more important things that Robbins notes, namely: 1. the actual thesis has yet to be tested, and 2. the scientist in question has a history of planting scare stories in the media.

Of course, there are numerous studies out there championing the alleged benefits of social networking—particularly Facebook—which I’ll list here in no particular order:

• Facebook can actually help improve the self-esteem of college students, according to an early 2011 study conducted at Cornell University.

• Per a 2010 UCLA study, Facebook users were more likely to make friends based on common interests versus more antiquated sociological predictors, like race.

• Inane status updates—like “That cereal was so good!”—may actually have a useful purpose: They serve as reminders of your existence to online connections, which actually helps breed desirable traits like entrepreneurship.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

It’s easy to make something like Facebook the culprit for pre-existing human conditions, many of which have been around for a long time. I don’t think Facebook goes so far as to amplify these problems, but rather makes it easy for us to shed a more palpable light on them.

Paul Ford said it best in a wonderful piece for New York Magazine, which I’ll do my best to echo: “I don’t think people love Twitter or Facebook in the same way they might love Parks and Recreation or Twilight. Rather, we like the beer and tolerate the bottle.”

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The meat of social networking is in the social dynamics, the interfaces of which aren’t a cause or end, but rather a medium. To say that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, MySpace or anything else are to blame for anything is downright silly: It’s the people peering through their monitors on the other side—the ones that can give us compliments, share videos or even call us fat—that affect us.

Just like real life. And any good parent knows that, or, at the very least, should put the work in to understand it.

Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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