American Academy of Pediatrics Report Claims Facebook Depression is a New and Legitimate Condition
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a clinical report released in March, added a new disease to its lengthy roster of childhood and teen ailments. They call it “Facebook Depression,” and define it as “a depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.” In the short time since the report made its way to the public, a maelstrom has overtaken the parenting internet sites.
The website PsychCentral.com is one among many that decries the “shoddy research” which led the report’s authors, Gwen O’Keefe et al, to “make up” the condition in order to express their bias against the social media site. When pressed by The Huffington Post, O’Keefe admitted that this “so-called condition” affects only a small group of kids. “Facebook is really a magnifier,” she backpedaled. “You’re not going to catch something on Facebook, but Facebook tends to amplify any of our insecurities or anything we’re feeling good about.”
This is the chicken and the egg conundrum Internet style. Do depressed teens spend more time on Facebook than teens with active social lives outside of the tech world, or does spending more time on Facebook cause teens to become depressed? This question will most likely be debated until another technological advancement moves in to take the number one spot on the long list of things parents of teens worry about.
Relative to the entire teen population, a fairly small number of teens die in car accidents each year. But that doesn’t prevent parents from lying awake at night, hearts pounding at two minutes to curfew, waiting to hear the car pull safely into the garage. Relative to the population, a small number of teenage girls are impregnated every year, but that doesn’t stop Dads from reading the riot act to young suitors. You can find comfort in statistics that assure you that only a small number of children are affected by each danger on the parental worry list…until your child makes the list.
Every generation contributes a new entree to the menu of hazardous teenage behaviors that portend dire consequences. In the fifties parents worried their daughters would be labeled “bad girls” and bring shame to the family if they engaged in sexual activity before marriage. The sixties ushered in the drug culture, and parents began to worry about addiction and overdosing. It was not until the 1970‘s that anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders were brought to public attention and began to proliferate among teenage girls. The 80’s brought the fear of AIDs. In 1999 the Columbine School Massacre claimed 13 victims. At least one school shooting has occurred every year since. And now we have Facebook. If one child commits suicide because of Facebook, every parent should be concerned enough to at least talk about the pros and cons of the site with their children.
In some ways Facebook steals our safe havens. I was taunted and teased as a preteen. Because I was tall, gawky, and shy, and cursed with a rather large nose, the school bus was a minefield. Each morning and afternoon was fraught with the possibility of severe verbal abuse. At school I knew how to avoid the bullies, though occasionally they would show up in the cafeteria to ruin my lunch. But home was a sanctuary. Home was where I could find peace by lying on my bed and listening to The Beatles and imagining that Paul McCartney would find me perfect in every way. The ridicule was confined to the bus and the cafeteria. No one who wasn’t assigned to that bus route or my lunch period had to know about it. If I had returned home to Facebook at the end of a miserable day and discovered that my tormenters had posted their ugly thoughts about me for the WHOLE WORLD to see…well you don’t need scholarly research to figure out how I would have felt about that.
Tweens and teens who live on Facebook do so at the most fragile moments of their existence, when self-esteem is almost entirely dependent upon what other tweens and teens think of them…when fitting in and looking like everyone else is paramount. Emotional equilibrium is precarious at best.
As a parent of grownup children who are about to become parents themselves, I would encourage them to talk about the risks of online activity, regardless of whether or not Facebook depression is a real or made-up phenomenon. I would also encourage them to talk about safe driving and safe sex and the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the importance of eating healthfully and where guns do and do not belong (which to me is nowhere). And then I would encourage them to enjoy every minute with their children and try not to worry as much as I did. And good luck with that.
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