Remember back in the day when you used to get your yearbook from the previous year on the first day of school? And everyone would ask everyone else to sign their annual? The popular kids had countless messages scribbled all over the blank filler pages such that there was barely any space left for the many more who had yet to sign. The unpopular kids? Not as much. Plenty of room left there, and anyone who might sign such a student’s annual would immediately recognize that fact.
It seems as if a similar phenomenon may be happening these days on Facebook, only unlike my antiquated yearbook example, this phenomenon is not contained to a day or two, but rather is something that’s ongoing, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Popularity contests and adolescence go hand in hand. And Facebook is proving that these contests aren’t just contained to the real world. They’re happening in cyberspace, too. The less-popular teens with Facebook accounts? Well, like their less-popular predecessors on “Annual Day,” their pages are often noticeably empty. Especially when compared to their more-popular counterparts whose pages are littered with hundreds and hundreds of friends, countless wall posts and scores of photos in which they’ve been tagged, all of which can inadvertently flaunt the spoils which come along with popularity. And teens on the short end of that cyber stick often feel profound effects.
Or so says Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician who is also the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines. She believes that there are unique aspects of Facebook which make it particularly tough for teens to negotiate. And the friendship tallies are but one example. Others are potentially far more damaging, like the mean-spirited messages left by some teens on the walls of kids whom they don’t like.
“Facebook is where all the teens are hanging out now. It’s their corner store.” O’Keeffe told the Associated Press. Only unlike the corner store, in cyberspace, some kids might get the nerve to post things which they wouldn’t ordinarily say. And once it’s posted, it’s as harmful as the spoken word if not more so, as any of the kids’ peers can see the message (or pile on with a comment of their own) literally any time they want.
It’s these types of dynamics which lead to what O’Keeffe’s group refers to as “Facebook depression.” While researchers disagree on whether the term describes a specific feeling brought about by Facebook activity, or simply an extension of preexisting depression, one thing is for certain: Facebook provides yet another venue in which some teens will struggle through one of the most challenging phases of their lives.
The American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines encourage pediatricians to impress upon parents the importance of discussing online social media activity with their kids, and that parents should be aware of phenomenons like cyberbullying and sexting.
Of course, there are many benefits to Facebook, something which is not lost on O’Keeffe. The site is an ideal way to connect with out-of-town friends and relatives to keep them abreast of what’s happening by exchanging messages and sharing pictures.
And no one would disagree with that. But still, I don’t envy today’s youth — especially those who find adolescence to be particularly challenging. Because social networking sites like Facebook add another series of complications to a maze that was already complicated enough.
mAnd the kids who weren’t so popular had these pathetically empty white pages before and