Video: Does Facebook add to teen loneliness, depression?

  1. Transcript of: Does Facebook add to teen loneliness, depression?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Back now at 8:20. And this morning on PARENTING TODAY , is your teenager suffering from something called Facebook depression ? NBC 's Tamron Hall is here to explain that. Tamron , good morning.

    TAMRON HALL reporting: Good morning, Matt. Well, roughly 75 percent of teenagers use social networking sites and almost a quarter admit to logging on more than 10 times a day. And while much good can come from connecting with your family and friends online, a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics warns it can also harm at-risk kids. Chances are your teenager is on Facebook checking on their friends' status updates and who is in a new relationship. Helen Warren and her friends admit to spending a lot of time online.

    Ms. HELEN WARREN: Everyone is always on Facebook .

    Unidentified Teen Boy: Yeah.

    Unidentified Teen Girl: Yeah.

    HALL: And now there are emotional ups and downs to staying connected.

    Teen Boy: It can be kind of a letdown if you go on and no one cares about you.

    Ms. WARREN: You're opening it up to everybody kind of being able to see what you're doing and hurt you.

    Teen Boy: The things people do on Facebook could definitely hurt you or change your mood.

    HALL: It's exactly that sentiment that led the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a set of guidelines for doctors to deal with the psychological impact of social media on teens. The report emphasizes that the virtual world can have a very real impact on the self-esteem of a teenager because "a large part of this generation's social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet ." For any teenager prone to depression , social media can make things worse.

    Dr. GWENN O'KEEFFE (American Academy of Pediatrics): We're not talking about your typical moody teenager, these are kids who already have some sort of tendency towards depression or anxiety who spend time online with Facebook and it sort of augments their symptoms.

    HALL: Despite its goal to connect, the report indicates social media can instead isolate some teens and provide a forum for bullying. In fact, over one-third of teens admit to making fun of classmates online. Helen 's mom Carrie Foley can see how Facebook might be harmful.

    Ms. CARRIE FOLEY: If you were a kid who was subjected to bullying or somehow marginalized at all that you could really feel excluded.

    HALL: So what do parents need to know?

    Dr. O'KEEFFE: The best way of viewing the online world is as part of our world, not as a separate entity. While we're busy teaching them sports and music, we have to focus equally as much on technology so they understand the idiosyncrasies of using Facebook .

    HALL: Well, one expert noted that parents should not get the idea that using social networking sites will somehow infect their kids with depression , but they say it's something to look out for. Matt :

    LAUER: All right, Tamron . Thank you very much . We're joined now by Dr. Lisa Thornton , who is a pediatrician. Doctor, nice to see you. We love labels in this country, so now we're calling this, and I think probably unfairly, Facebook depression . It's really saying that social media can have a negative impact while it can still have a positive impact.

    Dr. LISA THORNTON (Pediatrician): That's right . The report from the American Academy of Pediatrics made this one small paragraph within the entire report, this Facebook depression , and it's important to note that this is because -- this really happens to kids who already have issues, but even typical kids can be affected emotionally by what's going on in social media sites because it can be one little thing that's said that then spreads like ripples in a pond and people keep posting against it and suddenly it becomes part of that person's persona.

    LAUER: It is those ripples in the pond; when I was a kid , if another kid walked up to me at the playground and said something nasty, it hurt, but it was only a momentary interaction, then I was home. The problem with social media is they spend so much time on it that it can be repeated hour after hour, day after day .

    Dr. THORNTON: That's right . Something that was small becomes big. And so it's really important for parents to kind of tune in to their child's emotional -- be a barometer for your child's emotions, to note that if your child even didn't leave the house that day but has been on the computer and suddenly has a mood change, to really try to explore what's going on there.

    LAUER: So advice for parents -- I mean, social media , you should allow your kids to make social media a part of their lives, but not too big a part of their lives.

    Dr. THORNTON: Right. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day, which can be hard to get to because I have children and I know how difficult that is. But it's important to make it just one of the many things they do to socialize and it can be very positive, but it can be damaging in some kids.

    LAUER: And make sure your kids are sharing the right kinds of messages.

    Dr. THORNTON: Right.

    LAUER: Discretion is very important.

    Dr. THORNTON: Parents have to really focus in on that because these days what is discretion to those of us who are a little older is not discretion to the younger generation. And you have to really put boundaries around it and be sure that if your children are posting things that seem inappropriate and hurtful that you kind of rein them in a little bit and help them to understand where the boundaries are.

    LAUER: And again, a lot of these kids who are experiencing this type of depression probably had a tendency toward it in the first place and parents should have their antenna up.

    Dr. THORNTON: That's right .

    LAUER: All right, Doctor, thank you very much . I appreciate it.

    Dr. THORNTON: Thank you.

updated 3/29/2011 9:30:29 AM ET 2011-03-29T13:30:29

Add "Facebook depression" to potential harms linked with social media, an influential doctors' group warns, referring to a condition it says may affect troubled teens who obsess over the online site.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

Researchers disagree on whether it's simply an extension of depression some kids feel in other circumstances, or a distinct condition linked with using the online site.

But there are unique aspects of Facebook that can make it a particularly tough social landscape to navigate for kids already dealing with poor self-esteem, said Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician and lead author of new American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines.

With in-your-face friends' tallies, status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times, Facebook pages can make some kids feel even worse if they think they don't measure up.

It can be more painful than sitting alone in a crowded school cafeteria or other real-life encounters that can make kids feel down, O'Keeffe said, because Facebook provides a skewed view of what's really going on. Online, there's no way to see facial expressions or read body language that provide context.

The guidelines urge pediatricians to encourage parents to talk with their kids about online use and to be aware of Facebook depression, cyberbullying, sexting and other online risks. They were published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Abby Abolt, 16, a Chicago high school sophomore and frequent Facebook user, says the site has never made her feel depressed, but that she can understand how it might affect some kids.

"If you really didn't have that many friends and weren't really doing much with your life, and saw other peoples' status updates and pictures and what they were doing with friends, I could see how that would make them upset," she said.

'It's like a big popularity contest'
"It's like a big popularity contest — who can get the most friend requests or get the most pictures tagged," she said.

Also, it's common among some teens to post snotty or judgmental messages on the Facebook walls of people they don't like, said Gaby Navarro, 18, a senior from Grayslake, Ill. It's happened to her friends, and she said she could imagine how that could make some teens feel depressed.

"Parents should definitely know" about these practices, Navarro said. "It's good to raise awareness about it."

The academy guidelines note that online harassment "can cause profound psychosocial outcomes," including suicide. The widely publicized suicide of a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl last year occurred after she'd been bullied and harassed, in person and on Facebook.

"Facebook is where all the teens are hanging out now. It's their corner store," O'Keeffe said.

She said the benefits of kids using social media sites like Facebook shouldn't be overlooked, however, such as connecting with friends and family, sharing pictures and exchanging ideas.

"A lot of what's happening is actually very healthy, but it can go too far," she said.

Dr. Megan Moreno, a University of Wisconsin adolescent medicine specialist who has studied online social networking among college students, said using Facebook can enhance feelings of social connectedness among well-adjusted kids, and have the opposite effect on those prone to depression.

Parents shouldn't get the idea that using Facebook "is going to somehow infect their kids with depression," she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments