Social Networking & Teens


by Brad Koffel

A 2009 study based in San Francisco interviewed 1,000 teens and their parents about habits on social networking sites such as Facebook. The numbers exposed a "Not-My-Child" syndrome by 98% of the parents. 10% of the teens polled had posted nude or semi-nude pictures on a site. 25% of the teens admitted posting something they later regretted. Only 2% of the parents were supervising their teens' postings on a regular basis. The parents were aware of the dangers associated with this playground with no supervision but felt like their teen was not doing anything inappropriate.

The digital universe is where most kids live. They watch videos, get their information, consume media, talk, and learn online. The days of worrying about what teens are watching on TV are long gone. When was the last time parents ever paid attention to the movie rating before allowing their teen to go see a movie? TV and cinemas are pre-approved, regulated, and implicitly approved for watching. The internet and what teens create themselves is the new frontier of teen mental health dangers.

Cyber-bullying, binge drinking, sexually explicit content, and drug use are all topics of daily teen discourse. Texting has replaced email. Email replaced talking. We are in a faceless age of narcissism, false identities, and poor behavior that is not created by the internet, but rather, super-sized by the internet. These traits have been around for centuries. But, prior to social networking sites, a person could disavow saying or doing something, "burn the negatives", or be forced to think before acting. Not now.

Social networking sites now create a "digital tattoo" that will be with teens for years to come. Nothing is ever deleted. High school administrators, admissions committees, and law enforcement are not ostriches with their heads buried in the sand. These folks are watching, monitoring, and reviewing what teens say and do online. As a criminal defense lawyer, I can tell you many stories where kids became unwitting defendants in a criminal case as a result of cyber bullying, sexting, or posting nude pictures of a person under the age of 18 online.

In essence, social networking sites are self-regulated by their users. Teens are self-regulating. Much like "Lord of the Flies", self-regulation by adolescents and teens does not work well.