Just a decade or two ago, a child’s social life was largely his/her own business. If you had friends, your peers were well aware (e.g. “Oh, he hangs out with Peter”) and if you didn’t have friends, well, you could lie about it and pretend you did. It is difficult to say whether Facebook and other social networking innovations have made us more honest, or just more transparent in our social dealings. Children and teens (although children under 13 years of age shouldn’t be using social networking sites by law) have become progressively more and more reliant upon virtual dealings to cement and substantiate their social lives and this has gotten parents and pediatricians concerned.
It is not enough to ask teens and adolescents about drug use and sexual activity, now many pediatricians want to know about their young patient’s online presence. According to recommendations newly released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s online life (including involvement in Facebook and other social networking sites) should be part of the child’s medical history. This is not just an attempt to widen the watchful eye of adults over wayward children; this is an attempt to uncover the many warning signs and emotional risks that are sometimes evident with frequent users of social media. The recommendations are largely focused on social media (no word on networked first-person shooter games) and intended to find children and teens who don’t “measure up” to the social ideal of their peers (whatever that may be). Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines, told the Associated Press, that Facebook presents a special challenge for kids struggling with their own self-esteem.
And while it may sound like an odd proposition for your child’s pediatrician to be collecting data on your young one’s Facebook habits, the intention is not just to hold on to that data for safekeeping. Pediatricians are urging parents to educate themselves about how social media work to narrow the “participation gap” that separates them from their tech-savvy kids. It is recommended that parents ask their children, “Have you used the computer and the Internet today?” each and every day?
But with the adolescent and teen social experience being what it is today (more confusing and competitive than what we remember) can it be all that bad to have a child’s online social life available for review and scrutiny? Will adult inquiries into a child’s online life really yield positive results? Should we assume that trouble and emotional difficulties are detected from a discussion about a child’s social media habits? Should some realms (like the archaic brass-locked diary) be private and off limits to parents and concerned adults?