published Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Facebook warning: Girls get anxiety

Dr. Leonard Sax talks to students at GPS on Tuesday about social media and the cybersphere.
Dr. Leonard Sax talks to students at GPS on Tuesday about social media and the cybersphere.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Parents with girls, beware of Facebook.

The use of social networks can cause increasing anxiety for adolescent girls -- more so than for boys of the same age, a doctor and psychologist told Chattanooga parents and students Tuesday.

Leonard Sax, an author, family physician and psychologist, spent the day Tuesday with students and teachers at Girls Preparatory School before giving an evening public lecture. Known for his sometimes-controversial work on gender studies, Sax is a proponent of same-sex education because of what he sees as differences in the ways boys and girls see, hear and learn.

Presentations on Tuesday centered around what Sax calls the "cyberbubble," the online and mobile sphere in which adolescents constantly are interacting with each other.

Citing academic studies, Sax said the more time a girl spends on Facebook and the more friends she has on the site, the more likely she is to be depressed. He said girls post different types of material on social networking sites than boys.

While boys will share a wide variety of things on Facebook, Sax said girls' posts and pictures tend to focus on positive activities, such as attending a football game, going to a party or baking cookies with friends. So when a teen girl checks out Facebook while alone at night, it might paint an unrealistic portrait of what her peers are up to.

"You may come to believe that the other girls are having more fun than you," Sax told a group of GPS high schoolers. "That's just not true."

That stress causes girls to obsess over creating cuter and more clever posts. Sax warned girls to limit social media and texting and instead rely on face-to-face interactions. Sax said social media and texting are useful for conveying information -- like when and where to meet up -- but shouldn't be used to sustain a relationship.

"There's not enough time to do both -- to have a really funny and cute Facebook page every day and to nurture real relationships," he said.

GPS students said that's an idea they can relate to.

While texting and Facebooking is a near-necessity for the modern teen, senior Morgan Lane said they can sometimes get out of hand.

"I kind of agree with him. But it's about finding a balance, because I think Facebook can be really useful," Lane said.

Junior Sydney Leech said she spent an hour or two a day on Facebook, though not consecutively.0

"You spend five or 10 minutes on Facebook at a time just making sure you know what's going on," she said. "You want to know who's having more fun than you are."

Sax urged parents Tuesday night to be aware of what their children are doing online and on their cellphones. He encouraged use of applications that track what children are doing online and on the phone.

"The principles of good parenting have not changed in 20 years," he said. "The only thing that has changed is the technology."

He says parents need to work to get kids out of the "cyberbubble," which hyper focuses on fragile peer relationships instead of adult relationships. He suggested simple moves like eating dinner together without cellphones, taking family trips and building in enough free time for kids to just be kids.

"You've got to fight for that time together," he said. "Kids need parents to be parents."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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