Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Do social websites harm children's brains?

Some experts think so. According to the Daily Mail:

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.

The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day...

'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment...'

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It, said: 'We are seeing children's brain development damaged because they don't engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia.

'I'm not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.'

What do you think, is MySpace and Facebook harming kid's brains?



Blogger Jeff said...

No, its the lax parents who do not really "parent" and make sure their children have a balanced life of education, fun, and activities(band, scouts, reading, etc.).

From the article;

"A study by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board found teenagers now spend seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen."

Parents can control this.

6:32 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger uncle ken said...

I think the Daily Mail is toxic to children's brains. Adult brains too. She says "I fear". Does she have evidence that damage has occurred or is this just emotional supposition? Or worse, seling more newspapaers.

6:33 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

Before one starts making assumptions about the destruction of little tyke's brains I would like to see some evidence, some statistics and a study or 2 on the subject.

Back in my own formative years kids spent hours sitting in front of the TV doing nothing. I might be mistaken, if one participates on Facebook, Twitter, Bebo or Bobe or whatever, don't they actually have to read or write something? Post some pics? Make some comments? Talk to someone? Communicate? Respond? Compared to TV how bad is this?

I was listening to a radio program this weekend and there was a panel discussing how people were very engaged in the last presidential election, more so than any other time in history. This was due a big part to the Internet and various news sources that were available to everyone, we all could pick and choose what we read as well as do our own research on particular subjects. These social sites the kids are using lay the groundwork for Internet skills, reading skills and writing skills.

Are the kids changing the way they communicate with each other? Maybe. Are they distracted with their cell phones and technogadgets? Sure. But I still want to see the research that tells me by how much before I draw any conclusions.

The side benefit to all of this is that kids spend less time being outside and destructive to people's property so I'm not exactly heartbroken about all this either.

8:15 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Trust said...

@Jeff said... "No, its the lax parents who do not really "parent" and make sure their children have a balanced life of education, fun, and activities(band, scouts, reading, etc.)."

I think Jeff nails it. The Internet, video games, movies, day care, etc. are often things parents use to occupy their kids because they are too busy and or tired to spend the time with them helping them develop.

8:25 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger mkfreeberg said...

Not so much "harm," more like "change" the kids' brains. The same way we all change our brains when we engage in specialized things. Doing something else, playing on the Wii, playing a DeathMatch, smoking some pot, would change the change, and thus undo the "harm."

But to undo the harm specifically referenced here, you need fresh air. Unfortunately, just about anything that would be truly effective has been stigmatized. Boy Scouts is "paramilitary" and "a hate group" -- and all that.

'I'm not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.

Bingo. Jeff's right too. Electronic things are not a substitute for parenting. Kids need to earn their time on Facebook, minute by minute. Preferably by using a pellet gun to turn tin cans into swiss cheese. Engaging in some kind of contest to do so -- even better.

9:00 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Dave Cornutt said...

I recall the exact same words being used to describe cartoons and comic books in the '60s. The Warner Bros. animations and DC/Marvel comics that are now regarded as classics would have been banned and destroyed if the nanny-staters of the day had had their way.

10:03 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Roci said...

'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment...

Sounds just like TV.

10:47 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Mark wrote: "I'm not a psychologist though."

You say that like it is a BAD thing!


11:01 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger David Foster said...

When newspapers & other media carry stories about scientific research, there should always be a link to the actual paper on which the story was based. Which should never, if it was supported by public funds, be behind a for-pay firewall.

11:03 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Wise words David.


11:04 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Mark, I was joking with you! Sorry, let me supply the context. I am a licensed clinical psychologist and I think a lot of my colleagues are wrong headed in their world view and work with patients. Thankfully, I am not alone in this belief! So there was no offense with your disclaimer.

I would guess that 50% of the BS written up in the media has some psychologist in the mix. I took your not being a psychologist as one less strike agin you!


11:48 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Echo Dave Cornutt -- I've heard all this before. Scare tactics for an agenda, books.

12:08 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Old RPM Daddy said...

Agree with David Cornutt above. This doesn't seem all that different from worrying about TV or comic books, as folks have done in years past.

12:11 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

If the Internet and the cell phone had never come to be, kids today still would be developing differently. I remember running wild when I was very young. Nowadays, they'd have a leash and helmet on me, and surveillance if they could afford it.

The electronic media are just something to do with the time kids are no longer allowed to be free.

12:26 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Bolie Williams IV said...

I also remember the exact same arguments made about television. In fact, I thought our attention spans were already so short that they couldn't really get any shorter.

And kids being self-centered and seeking instant gratification? Kids were never like that in the past!

My kids will most likely grow up to have jobs that involve doing things with computers. By then, they will be very, very good at doing things with computers.

12:51 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

Just imagine if society was going the other way. Let's say kids were spending less time with computers and cell phones and more time roaming free and digging holes in the back yard. What would the child care experts, the forensic psychologists and the advanced complex neuroscientists have to say about that?

They'd be predicting the end of the world.

1:34 PM, February 24, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking that children growing up on computers will become computer engineers or software writers is about as much as a shoe in as thinking those of us who grew up watching TV would all become TV repairmen. To adults older than the desk top revolution, computers are still fascinating to a degree. To a kid, they're a toaster or a microwave, as far as being special. My kids can't remember not having one in the house.

I am far more concerned about my kids' future with socialism than I am worried about Facebook.

1:45 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

Not all kids are planning to be software engineers. But just about every career now involves email, writing, pictures, creativity, communication, planning and group discussion. If you don't know how to handle a computer by the time you enter the workforce you are going to have a lot of catching up to do. Let the poor kids have their precious Facebook and let them be.

1:49 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

I'm sorry what was this post about?


2:38 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Do teenagers really spend 7 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen? This study was by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board which indicates they may be referring more to a TV screen than a computer screen. The writer appears to be confusing TVs and computers. Plus, was this a study done outside the U.S.? It's results may not translate well to the U.S. if so.

How many kids are really that lethargic? My kids nor any of their friends have that much time to spend in front screen each day after school, sports, band, and other extra-curricular activities.

2:43 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger RR Ryan said...

I fear the problem is that when she sees kids spend five minutes in front of a screen and then move on, it's because they've accomplished more than she could in an hour. Ask the commanders of our video game trained troops.

7:51 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Sparks said...

RR, so what you're trying to say is that she actually witnessed amazing productivity, but she's embarrassed at her ineptitude relative to the kids, so she's trying to cover up that fact by lying to us.


And the commanders of our video game trained troops can confirm this? Were they present when she studied the kids?

8:12 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger reality2009 said...

The internet & video games & all of the technology couldn't have come at a better time. For boys there isn't really much of any point of them socializing outside of themselves online, etc. anymore anyway because their 'social' future is well, looking pretty bleak.

False accusation of rape, false accusations of abuse by girls as well, and then later with the butchiness and monsterous personalities of Western women there aren't any boys who are really going to want to 'date' them anyway.

And then of course ultimately now that marriage is completely out of the question with the legal minefield/joke that has become and the inevitable divorce & the forced finacial support of a family you are legally seperated from and are blocked from having any part of, young men are already getting smarter and will just continue with their lives around computers well into adulthood and if things don't change, probably until they die.

This is all boys have left- and girls? Who gives a f*** about them and their future? The females in this society don't care about the males- are you freaking kidding me? They can go have their lesbo parties without the boys. That is the new 'socialization' for girls anyway.

10:22 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Joe said...

Read the article and it's plain that this is pure conjecture and not based on any studies at all. The so-called scientist making the claim says this "could" have an affect. Well, it could also have the opposite effect. Or no effect at all. And since we're now just making shit up; the world could end tomorrow.

Imagine if the printed book were invented today. There would be even more scientists and braniacs wringing their hands about how destructive this new fangled technology was; how it twisted kids brains and took their time away from invading their neighbors and all that.

There hasn't been a technology yet invented that hasn't thrown a sizable portion of people claiming to be smart into a tizzy. They're almost always proven wrong. This isn't any different.

As for the "kids are rotten" meme that popped up already; bullshit. The childless and older people always whine about how rotten kids are these days and how bad parents are. If you just did this or just did that, everything would be fine. Nonsense (especially since most the people spouting off did much of the things they whine about kids doing, but have conveniently forgot.)

I actually think most parents are doing a pretty good job in spite of all the politically correct liberal nannies and conservative religious nuts running around ruining life for everyone. Juvenile delinquency rates are down. Teenage pregnancy rates in most places are down. Kids are learning more earlier than ever before (back in 1980 my dad looked at my physics book and said we were learning what he learned his third year at Caltech in the early 50s. The kids are now learning this in 11th or 10th grade.)

11:22 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Joe said...

One more thing; the Sue Palmer theory of life is such irritating bullshit. Our kids are living longer and healthier than ever in the history of mankind. More survive into adulthood and live more productive lives than ANY people in history. Kids today are smarter than any in history, largely because they are better nourished.

Fools like Sue Palmer forget that even a hundred years ago many of these "marginal" kids would have not have survived childhood (and many would have been killed, a practice that continued well into the twentieth century in many places and exists to this day though we use abortion to sanitize it.)

I am so sick and tired of all the Luddites, Malthusians, and Histerical Al Gores/Sue Palmers of the world. Unfortunately, these idiots don't just whine--I usually tune that out--but they try to enact their moronic policies into law. (And don't get me started on Obama and his ilk who are deathly afraid of actually holding people accountable for their actions.)

11:35 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Bob Sorensen said...

I can't get past the "friends" and "followers" thing. You can't keep up with hundreds of friends, even with the short "status" updates on FB, and the small text that Twitter has to work with (I refuse to spend even five minutes on MySpace). My friends list was just over fifty, and only about five noticed my posts about my father's death and my flight to the funeral.

Facebook contributes, by its nature, to selfishness: What are *you* doing right now? Your friends, your updates, people you "tagged" in notes or photos... I was getting more fond of myself than usual for a while until reality set in, that there are very few meaningful friendships to be had there.

Sorry, what was the topic again? I've been having an attention span problem, but it's been getting better since I left FB and Twitter.

6:24 AM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...


How does almost every single cell phone call start? "What are YOU doing?" (Now you know why I no longer own a cell phone BTW). Nobody has to answer that question. Nobody has to put minute by minute updates on Twitter. You don't have to report about your every activity on Facebook.

People can write whatever they want. The more creative way you approach your content the more people will read it. If you have a blog, a Facebook account or a Twitter page you learn that pretty fast.

Oh, and meaningful relationships? Many of my friendships I have today were crafted through the Internet and I couldn't be happier.

8:07 AM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

In a word: Yes.

I see numerous negatives and precious positives to "social networking" sites aka facebook, twitter, et. al. The same for texting, tv watching, and even non-stop web surfing.

All very addictive activities with little to show for them in the end.

8:09 AM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

My oldest is soon to be 11 y/o and too young for Facebook, IMO. We homeschool, so we actually use the computer for school work. I limit computer-for-fun days to three days per week, no more than 1h each time.

I wish I could limit my husband's computer time like I do the kids. He's addicted to Facebook. I would like him to play checkers or ball or something - anything - with the kids.

12:06 PM, February 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm pretty bad with political blogs. I comment in a couple, but I read ten or twelve on a regular basis. I go to woodworking related blogs, papers, magazines. I do a lot of searching, work related, and have actually brought many an OEM customer in from doing those searches. I buy most clothing on line because I hate shopping malls, and the clothes I like to buy mostly have web sites and catalogs, not store fronts. My kids are now grown so it is not a problem there. The Internet, depending on how it is used, can be a wonderful tool. The amount of knowledge available at one's finger tips is incredible.

So I wonder when it'll get clamped down. I'm still waiting for the government to tax sunlight. I'm sure they will as soon as they figure out how to get us to swallow it.

12:51 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Bolie Williams IV said...

My kids are intelligent and will hopefully go to college. Regardless, they will most likely end up in an office job of some sort and will be using computers in some fashion. It's not that they will be programmers, necessarily, but they will need to use computers to do whatever it is that they do. Even jobs that today don't use computers may require some computer knowledge by the time my kids grow up. So being comfortable using computers for many things is a useful skill for kids to learn.

Heck, my five year old could probably drive a car if it used a game controller instead of a steering wheel and pedals.

12:59 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Dave Cornutt said...

Marc asks if, back in the day, comic books were really regarded as a serious threat to America's youth? Oh yeah. There were Senate hearings and everything. Artists got arrested for drawing stuff that was tame compared to what you see on TV every day now. Comic book publishers, out of self-defense, created a thing called the Comics Code Authority, with an absolutely draconian set of rules. (Imagine, if the MPAA's only sanctioned movie rating was "G", what it would do to the movie industry.)

After the CCA was created, up to about 1970, distributors refused to carry any comic books that weren't CCA approved, which made it impossible for a non-CCA comic to reach an audience at that time. The CCA's rules eventually descended into abject silliness (a writer for DC named Marv Wolfman was not permitted to use his real name in story credits because the CCA decreed that "Wolfman" was an allusion to werewolves, violating their prohibition on phantasmagorical characters), so when new distribution channels started opening up in the late '70s, publishers stopped worrying so much about CCA approval. The Wikipedia article on the CCA has a pretty good overview.

12:59 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Bob Sorensen said...

Cham saw fit to scold me like a wayward schoolchild.

"You don't have to report about your every activity on Facebook." No kidding, Sherlock? "The more creative way you approach your content the more people will read it." So, which is it? Announcing to my contacts that my father had died seems to be something interesting, doesn't it? Or did I need to jazz that up? "Hey, Gang! Guess what? My Pappy's pushing up daisies!" No, content has little to do with it.

I maintain my contention that people who have hundreds of "friends" cannot keep up with everyone's post. You have to seek them out, or tag them in notes and photos and such, to get their attention. Even then, no guarantees.

So, you have to invest a great deal of time in FB and Twitter. When you get responses and interact, however fleeting, that's when the addictive nature of the experience sets in.

I've found it more of a playtime hobby than a productive tool. Good blogs like this one can be addicting as well, but I get something useful out of them.

"If you have a blog, a Facebook account or a Twitter page you learn that pretty fast." If Chaim had read my comment more closely (s)he would see that I have indeed had both Twitter and Facebook accounts. Also, clicking on my name would show my profile and some of my existing blogs. Here, let me help with something, a posting I did about FB and Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/5makmw

Oh, and some of my best friends I've never met, having been online for a number of years makes it difficult for me to travel to visit buddies in Estonia, Thailand, Washington State...

1:37 PM, February 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The combination of computer and broadband proves an incredible business tool and networking device. I deal with people all over the U.S. and Canada on a regular basis. Not quite as regular, I deal with people in countries around the world. Many customers I deal with via e-mail and instant messaging become acquaintances, if not friends. In explaining application of your product, or trouble shooting, etc., instant messaging is nearly as good as telephone, with nowhere near the cost. And the conversation can be saved by the customer for future reference. Purchase orders and invoices have long since gone to e-mail.

If "green" is where we're going, newspapers, magazines, and book printers better find a different way to keep their markets.

Damn. I just realized that between work (on and off the net) and pleasure, I am on the computer probably 10-12 hours a day, or more. But I've never face booked or twittered. And I still poke with two fingers.

7:54 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Locomotive Breath said...

Shortened attention spans? Too late. Already accomplished by Sesame Street.

10:03 PM, February 26, 2009  
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