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Does Facebook = Teen Tragedy?

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What do BlackBerrys, text-messaging, and social networking sites have to do with teen suicide? One expert says plenty.

boy infront of a computer

Recently we learned that 17-year-old Theodore Graubard, a very popular high school Dalton School junior who took his own life by leaping from the 11th floor of his school building, had 512 Facebook friends.

512 Facebook friends.

With such a large social network, how is it that such a seemingly outgoing teen could feel so helpless -- and alone?

"Although we don't know the circumstances in which this boy took his life, in general, sometimes the kids who seem the most happy are the ones who feel most alone," says child psychologist Fran Walfish, Psy.D.

"Today's younger generation in particular is at risk for a specific type of isolation we haven't seen in the past," says Walfish. "With the advent of BlackBerrys, instant messaging, Facebook, and text messages, there are a million ways to be social without even leaving your bedroom."

The problem with all this modern technology, according to Walfish, is that people replace face-to-face contact with electronic relationships. "It's not an intentional phenomenon," she says. "It's simply the way of our culture. And we don't realize the repercussions until they are already ingrained in us."

But it's not just a child's social life that suffers -- it's his home life, too. If both parents work and a teen is left to his own devices, sometimes even child-parent interaction can fall to the wayside, leaving kids feeling more alone than ever.

As a result, teens can become accustomed to disconnecting, and if they're struggling with a problem, they won't know how to reach out for help.

Is the answer taking away your teen's cell phone and computer? "Absolutely not," says Walfish. "If your child has become accustomed to communicating electronically, taking away the object of his dependency will make him retract even more. If he doesn't know how to relate well in person, removing a reliable mode of communication may just make things worse."

The key, according to Walfish, is to supplement the time your kid spends online with good old-fashioned quality time. That way, he won't be "plugged in" 24/7.

Do you think your kid spends too much time texting or online? Share your story below.

next: Officer Uses Pepper Spray at Middle School Talent Show
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Annette February 20, 2009, 10:41 AM

Why is this title singling out facebook? Kids are on many different social sites such as yearbook & myspace, their are also the online games that allow chatting and such. Why the title making out like facebook = tragedy? I do agree kids need more face to face time and less computer interaction however I do think these online sites are just as good. Parents just need to monitor and watch the kids and stay involved in their lives. take at least one day a week and take the kids out for family time, one on one time or whatever.

Knickerbocker February 20, 2009, 11:13 AM

This alarmist BS is just as bad as the people who blame video games and television for simple human problems that have existed since the beginnings of urbanized society. This is a story that has been told over and over since the days of ancient Greek tragedy.

Facebook isn’t the problem, its just puberty hormones plus stress.

I went to a rival high school in the 80s (was in the same sports league as Dalton). There were suicides back then, just as there are now.

Parents are going to put their kids in high pressure situations (i.e. Get into ivy league or you’ll be flippin’ burgers), and someone is going to break down sooner or later. Everyone is mildly depressed and very moody in all HS, so it is impossible to figure out who is in trouble and who is just acting like a ‘regular’ teenager.

This will happen again because the system must eat its own to survive. Some teenager will commit suicide even if the pressure is off.

It’s not a positive thing - but it sure isn’t Facebook’s fault.

Some great logic there “Mom”.

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Anonymous April 15, 2010, 9:45 PM

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