According to statistics published in 2013 from the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens in the United States use the Internet. Of the teens that are online, 8 out of 10 of them report using some form of social media. Like most things, social networking has its pros and cons. Regardless of those, it’s exceedingly clear that using the Internet and indulging in social networking has become an intrinsic part of many peoples’ lives, especially for teens. From lingering on Facebook to scheduling appointments with colleagues to collaborating over projects, it’s evident that people are spending more and more time utilizing social networking.
It’s widely agreed that the introduction of the Internet, and specifically social networking, has helped society in a multitude of ways– advertising opportunities, avenues to display talents, and a way to communicate with people you cannot physically talk to. However, some have begun to wonder, is the amount of time we spend on the virtual interface perhaps trading off with face-to-face interaction? Is social networking destroying our interpersonal skills?
A growing problem with social networking is the breakdown of interpersonal skills, especially in the youth demographic, ages 13 to 24 and younger. Teenagers are growing up and developing their social skills online. It is to the point now where most youth prefer meeting and interacting with friends, instead of engaging in face-to-face conversations. This is especially problematic when many parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, develop their functions (decision making, etc.) as a result of face-to-face social interaction. According to a 2010 study called, “Mom Just Facebooked Me and Dad Knows How to Text,” conducted by Courtney Turnbull of Elon University, ten in-depth interviews were conducted. The study concluded with certainty, that face-to-face communication is the ideal form of communication and is the most efficient in accomplishing tasks and developing physiological functions. Face=to-face communication is also the most productive when participating in collaborative work.
Michael Carpenter, a social network user himself explains, “Rather than spending our time having fun with friends in person or doing something that has an actual impact on society for the better, we sit for minutes to hours toiling away on our keyboards in front of our ever-expanding monitors.” Despite the novel impact that the technological age has had on our society, we must maintain our social connections and physical interactions with each other. If we don’t, then how are we going to teach the younger generation valuable social skills when our own social experience takes place in front of the cold glow of a computer screen?
Despite the growing criticism revolving around the negative impact social networking can have on interpersonal skills, research from the organization Common Sense Media demonstrates that teens that struggle with shyness and low self-esteem can overcome these issues through social media. 29% of teens reported that social media helps them express themselves and makes them feel less shy. Communicating online is an effective way for users to connect with others. Shy or more isolated kids will have a chance to open up and practice their social skills while interacting with others online. The Internet could possibly be used as a forum for expanding social networks and consequently enhancing the change of meaningful relationships, self-confidence, social abilities, and social support.
With the possible benefits that social networking can have on the social lives of many users, we must address the following question: if used in moderation, can social networking be beneficial? The Internet and social media have reached a point of no return, and will only become more integrated into society. The days of face-to-face communication as being the sole form of social interaction are long gone, but social media has proven to be beneficial to an exponentially large audience, and will continue to grow due to new innovations. If used in excess, social networking will lead to the demise of interpersonal skills and will forever spell an end to social interaction. However, if used in moderation, social networking can help users overcome obstacles that inhibit social interaction such as shyness. More importantly, the key is to make sure your kids know that the real living takes place offline.