CHICAGO. – Another potential harmful effect of the social networks could now include “Facebook depression” said a leading U.S. medical group, that claims it can affect teenagers obsessed with the website and that already have some type of affection.
The scholars differed as to whether the problem is a variant of depression that already afflicts some teenagers in other circumstances or whether it is a different condition related to Facebook use.
However, there are unique aspects of Facebook that could make it a particularly difficult environment for adolescent with self-esteem problems to surmount the social aspects of the site, said Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician in the Boston area.
O’Keeffe is the leading author of the new guidelines for social networking sites that the Academy of American Pediatrics has published. Facebook pages can make kids feel even worse if they believe they are not at the level of their friends because of the number of visits, updated messages and photos of happy people that are having a good time. It might be more painful than sitting alone in a cafeteria full of people at school or other real-life encounters that can make teens feel bad, O’Keeffe said, because Facebook provides a distorted view of what is actually happening.
On the Internet, there is no way to see facial expressions and read body language that provides context. The guidelines for pediatricians are to encourage parents to talk to their teenagers about Internet use and warn them about depression that Facebook may create, as well as the existence of the so-called cyberbullying, messages and other sexual content and Internet dangers.
These guidelines were published online on Monday by the journal Pediatrics.
In sophomore year of high school in Chicago, Abby Abolt, 16, is a frequent user of Facebook. Abolt says that Facebook has never depressed him, though he understands that it may affect some children.
“If someone does not have as many friends as others and does not do much in his life, and sees the messages or photos of others, and knows how others have enjoyed themselves with their friends, I understand that you could feel bad,” he added. “It’s as if it were a giant popularity contest, to see who has the most friend requests or to see who gets more attention with their photographs,” he said.
It is also common among some teens to post nasty messages on Facebook or critical of people who they don’t sympathize with, says Gaby Navarro, 18, high school senior in Greyslake, Illinois.
Navarro said that this has happened to her friends and understands that the situation may depress adolescents. “Parents should definitely know about these issues,” said Navarro. “It is good to draw attention in this regard.”
According to the guidelines of the academy, online harassment “can have profound psychological effects, including suicide. Last year a highly publicized case was the suicide of a Massachusetts teenager of 15 who suffered intimidation and harassment in person and on Facebook.
Dr. Megan Moreno, University of Wisconsin and a specialist in adolescent medicine, said the use of Facebook can improve the perception of social connection among balanced young people and have the opposite effect among those prone to depression. Parents should not believe that the use of Facebook “somehow infect their children with depression,” said Moreno.