A child struggling with disordered behaviour also struggles with social skills deficits. I did not meet a socially strong child with disordered behaviour in the almost 30 years I worked with these children.

Social media can both help and hinder these issues. The positive or negative results are based solely on how the child interacts with their online connections. Parents often disparage online friends and not being “real” friends and downplay their importance. But ask any teenager or young adult about online friends and they are adamant that their online friends (OLFs) are just as important and in some cases, more important that their real life friends (RLFs). Recent research has shown that interacting with online friends and family has a direct impact on mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. It also has the ability to improve social skills by the very nature of the interactions.

There are a number of research articles that theorize the negative outcomes of social media and recently I have heard a number of people express their hatred for it. The most common belief, is that it takes people away from the person proximity zone necessary for beneficial social engagements. Psychologist, Jean Twenge found an increase in teen depression correlated with an increase in technology use. Psychologist, Sherry Turkle found that mobile phones are redefining modern relationships by making us feel “alone together”.

On the other hand there is a growing belief that social media can improve our health and happiness. Sociologist Keith Hampton’s study suggests that people spend more time in public now. It causes us to get out of the house and do more. He also purposes that the cell phones in public are more often used by people to pass the time on their own, rather than ignoring friends. And recent research has shown that the positive and negative associations with social media are based on how one uses social media.

Researchers at US San Diego and Yale, found that simply broadcasting status updates is not enough of an interaction to create any benefit from the use of social media. Only reading about others online is not enough. This can lead to negative social comparisons resulting in decreased self-esteem and mood. A give and take of information needs to happen. Actively interacting with others by sharing messages, posting and comments with close friends and family is linked to improvements in well-being.

At the University of Michigan the researchers found that interacting with people you care about can be beneficial while simply watching others from the sidelines may make a person feel worse. Their experiments showed; only being a passive consumer of information resulted in the participants feeling worse and those who were assigned to posting and talking to friends ended up feeling better and had a more positive outlook.

The common denominator is that every person’s health and happiness relies heavily on the strength of their relationships. The most important of these relationships are the ones we have with family. The interaction through social media is powerful and makes reaching out to others easy. Allow children to connect with others using technology and don’t downplay the importance of these relationships. Because how these children define their OLFs is most likely how they are going to define themselves. How they interact with their OLFs is also how they are internally interacting. The more positive interactions a child has the more confidence they will have and the better able they are to interact with everyone.


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