An article in the Sunday New York Times asks us to consider whether or not the use of social media such as Facebook strengthens or compromises a child's ability to form in-depth face-to-face relationships with his peers. As you might imagine, both sides of this debate are passionate about their positions and what it might mean for the adults of tomorrow.
Those who feel social media may detract from the formation of traditional friendships worry that the ability to communicate with peers 24/7 may cause children to be disinterested in face-to-face interactions. However interviews conducted by ethnographer Danah Boyd suggest that childrem and teen prefer face-to-face interactions with their peers but that today's hectic extra-curricular schedules and other life conditions limit the opportunity for kids to get together.
Others feel that the continual access to friends can strengthen the relationships. Studies cited in the Times article show that kids send an average of 50 text messages daily. However, it noted that children seldom call their friends.
(From my point of view, texting is much more efficient than calling. How many of us remember being tethered to the telephone by a call from our love interests, in which no one is saying anything. In the days of corded communication, this was a huge time waster, even if it was comforting.)
In my participation in social media, mostly Facebook, I have befriended many of our former students. Frankly I have been impressed with the breadth of the friendships I have observed. I wanted to cry with pride as former students were speaking out against those who were cyberbullying a peer. I am impressed with their discretion in posting sensitive items. I have seen diversity among the friendships that I did not observe when the kids were here in school. Granted, Facebook friends are not necessarily "friends," but children are making the choice to interact appropriately with a wide range of individuals, more than they likely could handle interacting with in person. I cannot help but think that these interactions will help children be more tolerant members of society.
Still the question remains if the brief interactions children are experiencing will stifle their development of deeper interpersonal skills necessary for marriage and parenting. I would hope (naively, perhaps) that the face-to-face nurturing that children receive from the adults in their life and the connections they make in the many extracurricular activities our children are experiencing will compensate for any deficit brought on by social media.