How to Addict Your Kids to Facebook

Readers — A bunch of you sent this in to me, including my own son, Morry, who said, “Hey Mom, have you seen this?” We are fans of Wired magazine here. Kudos to Clive Thompson, author of the new book Smarter Than You Think, for this piece:

Don’t Blame Social Media if Your Teen Is Unsocial. It’s Your Fault

by Clive Thompson

Are teenagers losing their social skills? Parents and pundits seem to think so. Teens spend so much time online, we’re told, that they’re no longer able to handle the messy, intimate task of hanging out face-to-face. “After school, my son is on Facebook with his friends. If it isn’t online, it isn’t real to him,” one mother recently told me in a panic. “Everything is virtual!”

Now, I’m not convinced this trend is real. I’ve read the evidence about the “narcissism epidemic” and the apparent decline in empathy in young people, and while it’s intriguing, it’s provisional. Lots of work offers the opposite conclusion, such as Pew surveys finding that kids who text the most also socialize the most in person. But for the sake of argument, let’s agree that we have a crisis. Let’s agree that kids aren’t spending enough time together mastering social skills. Who’s responsible? Has crafty Facebook, with its casino-like structure of algorithmic nudging, hypnotized our youth?

If kids can’t socialize, who should parents blame? Simple: They should blame themselves. This is the argument advanced in It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd. Boyd”full disclosure, a friend of mine”has spent a decade interviewing hundreds of teens about their online lives.

What she has found, over and over, is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”

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40 Responses to How to Addict Your Kids to Facebook

  1. E December 27, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    I’ll have to read the links to better understand the point, but I’m not sure I agree so far. I have two kids, same gender. One introvert, one extrovert. The introvert uses social media more than the other (although FB is really not used by either of them anymore). I’m not sure that’s surprising.

    The other thing I don’t understand is the comment about kids not being able to “hang out” the way their parents did. That’s something that I haven’t experienced. I find teenagers today extremely social and if anything MORE SO than I did. I think personal cell phone allow for sharing of info (texting or social media) and ideas for ‘stuff to do’.

    Parents might worry more, but I don’t think teens are all sitting at home doing nothing and only connecting via the internet.

  2. Puzzled December 27, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    I don’t understand why talking to hundreds of people online is not ‘real’ but talking to a small circle of friends regularly is considered real. The logic of the entire argument escapes me – I think this is one of the more social generations in history.

    What I worry about is a lack of innovative thought, from well-educated, Common Core schooled idiots.

  3. E December 27, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Talking online is “real”, but people behave differently when they are talking via the internet rather than face to face. People can be bolder or nastier or fake or sarcastic in a manner that they would never be in real face to face discussions.

    I’m sensitive to this discussion because I often wonder how different I would be if I didn’t have some of the “gatekeepers” we had in my youth. We had face to face, a shared phone that was mounted on the wall, and written. That’s it. Just like my parents had. Now my kids can talk to anyone at any time thru a myriad of communications. They can also see everyone else’s. There is no “down time” from their social world.

    When I was in HS, you might have an afterschool activity, then you came home, ate dinner, did homework, watched a show on tv. Maybe a phone call to a friend or a sweetheart (that your parents knew about). It’s vastly different now.

    As far as the observation that teens want to hang out with their friends? How is that different than 30 years ago? People went to football games to socialize back then too.

  4. CrazyCatLady December 27, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    What about the kids I saw regularly last summer (teens) who were riding their skate boards (in packs) down the path and texting at the same time? Outside, in the sun, exercising, and yes…online. They may have been having a conversation that may not have been appropriate for all ages (it was a park, with little kids) and I appreciate the fact that younger kids did not have to be exposed to it. Or, maybe they didn’t want to yell to each other. Okay by me too.

  5. Coccinelle December 27, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Well I agree that socializing online is real socialization but I need to point that many teens openly admit having problems with social situations. They seem proud of that too. It’s maybe only a phase but when you are scared to call the pizzeria, I think it becomes more serious.

  6. E December 27, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    @Coccinelle, when my older sister (8 years older) was graduating from college and looking for her first apt, she HATED making the inquiry phone calls (using the yellow pages). I thought it sounded like fun so I made the calls for her. Some people are just less comfortable.

    I’m agreeing (based on my last post) that communications are vastly different than a generation ago, but I’m not sure it explains away everything.

    Going back to my own 2. I NEVER hear my introvert on the phone, actually talking — even to his very long time girlfriend, yet his phone’s data use is always higher than my other son. My extrovert – probably on the phone, actually talking, several times a day.

  7. Really Bad Mum December 27, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Bloody Instagram and another that I can’t remember the name of… ‘Princess Bitchface’ takes pictures of the most rediculas things and puts them on there, potato chips, her foot, her friends ear, *rolling eyes*

  8. kate December 27, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    One thing that is lost is the ability to make small talk with other members of the household. As a kid, when you had to call someone, you had to remember to be polite to the mother or father and introduce yourself before asking to speak to your friend. Later, you might have to say hi to a room mate or husband and ask how they were doing before talking to your friend. Now, even if there is a house phone, your name shows up and you never have to talk to anyone else. It is no wonder a kid has difficulty calling to order a pizza!

  9. E December 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Great point Kate.

    I realize that the study mentioned in the article was written by a MicroSoft person, but I still wonder how much is attributable to helicopter parenting. One could make the suggestion that since every kids is plastering everything they do on FB or twitter it’s a constant barrage that puts the teen in the frame of mind that they aren’t getting to “do anything”. It’s a totally skewed reality (which is why I don’t do FB anymore).

    If you’d asked my peer group in 1979 if we’d like to spend more time with friends or wish my parents let me do more stuff, we’d all have answered YES! I remember how pissed my Mom was when I left a note saying we’d gone to a movie on a school night. It wasn’t because she didn’t think it was safe, it’s because it was a school night.

  10. CJ December 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I would be curious to see the “evidence” he indicates of a trend of antisocial behavior. The two studies I’ve seen (looking for the links) show that teens that are active texters and social media users actually communicate and interact MORE in person than past generations. This supposed trend is great media FUD–just like google makes us stupid (also disproven by research). Just look at this article about “technopanics” and what people in 1859 thought about chess:

  11. Joan December 27, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Well said! If I hear one more parent say “Facebook takes time away from what kids should be doing” I am gonna scream. When you ask what their teens should be doing, you’ll hear about four hours worth of homework each night “because that’s what it takes.” Um, no. What it takes is learning how to make your own decisions. How is your teen going to learn anything besides school work if you don’t chill out?

    My teen-age daughter doesn’t get much time with her friends because her friends are kept busy doing calculus. Or sports. Or both.

    If this keeps up, the next generation might all turn out like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Now if THAT doesn’t scare you, I got nothing.

    If you don’t like your teen doing Facebook, I suggest you 1) stop complaining, 2) stop micromanaging, and 3) let them be teens and hang out with friends. Let them have a LIFE. And for God’s sake people, let them have sleepovers! Yes I know, they’ll be too tired the next day to be Einstein. Get over it. They’ll turn out better for it. Trust me.

  12. Papilio December 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Okay, I’ll just copy and paste my comment from yesterday’s post here (and now know I should first check what the new post is…):

    The other day I read an anecdote about a family with a son of 14 that moved from the Netherlands to the USA, after which the son got seriously depressed. Of course there was the fact he moved away from his friends and school, and of course Dutch teens also spend several centuries online.
    But he’d grown up in the bike culture here that allowed him to just hop on his bike and get himself to friends, school, cinema, shops etc etc etc – all of which changed after moving, since now he had to wait for a parent to ferry him around by car.

    Something about a frog and too hot water…? 🙁

  13. Bob Cavanaugh December 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I’m not sure I buy the fact that it’s parents who are to blame, although that may be part of the problem. I don’t know because I don’t talk about family stuff like this with my friends. The problem I have is that my parents haven’t overly scheduled my weekends or much of my time during the week for several years. That in itself isn’t a problem, but what is is that I’ll be spending lots of time online, though not too much on Facebook. When I send people messages on Facebook wanting to get together, either I get no reply or it’s I’ve got to work that day or I’m busy and can’t come. As a result, I’m spending more time at home online than I would like.

  14. J.T. Wenting December 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    “It’s maybe only a phase but when you are scared to call the pizzeria, I think it becomes more serious.”

    telephone angst is quite real, and not related at all to internet access.
    I myself have always hated the darn things, to the point I at times rather spend several hours to meet someone face to face for 10 minutes than call him on the phone.

    And that predates me having internet access by decades.

  15. SOA December 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Probably makes sense. You have to let your teen go and hope you raised them right. They need to be able to go out on dates and socialize and party. My mom was always so laid back about it. She just told me to tell her what I was doing and when I would be back and other than that, she let me go do whatever.

  16. SOA December 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Oh and yes to what someone said about homework having a play in it. I agree. With 4 hours of homework and after school jobs and activities, when do kids have time to hang out? They don’t. I never had time until the weekends. But now with them dumping even more homework on students I bet their weekends are full too.

  17. Coccinelle December 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    @ J.T. Wenting and E

    I’m sorry, I just assume that someone not able to call for pizza would be equally not able to go order the pizza in person.

  18. Coccinelle December 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    I meant “assumed” not “assume” sorry again.

  19. Asya December 27, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    I agree with the article, except the strange notion that teens — or anyone — has to be social. Why? When other children played together in the sunny sandbox, I grimmanced and played in the shade happily by myself. When I was teenaged, I spent a lot of time on and offline by myself, writing, taking walks, being depressed about the car culture like that Dutch 14 year old, sewing, drawing, researching. Sure, it would have been nice to have a pal, but I found the maturity level of my peers astronomically low, and unfortunately, 99% of adults I encounter nowadays are no better.

    But I do see the author’s point. However, as an introvert, I can appreciate technology that lets you interact with people without seeing them or speaking to them. I’m sure earlier generations saw the telephone just as suspiciously. Another thing is that you cannot force someone to be social– There was nothing more dreadful in school that those godforsaken “interactive group activities.”

    Another thing is that it’s hard for modern American teens to have a harmonious set of values. The only things they have in common are movies, music, food, and Facebooks. How shallow. They are too scared to even say “Merry Christmas” to each other.

  20. Chris December 27, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    My friend and I were just talking about this. We’re both in our 30s with nearly tween girls and we were comparing their social interactions with ours at their age. We spent much more time on the phone with each other than our kids do – I don’t think my kids would know how to have a simple phone conversation if they tried, but they can spend hours on social media. I think the only real shift is in the medium, but I have no real proof of that other than what we’re experiencing.

  21. Puzzled December 27, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    How are any of the explanations of social problems here different from the types of comments one might here on the invention of the telephone? We might hear, for instance, that the telephone will keep people from having to go visit when they want to talk, reducing the opportunity for ‘real’ accidental socialization. Every technology scares people.

  22. Bob Cavanaugh December 28, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    As I eluded to in my last comment, I have a hard time just getting people to hang out with me. I have to plan sometimes a week in advance on a date and time. With an unpredictable amount of homework, I didn’t want to have something planned for a weekday evening then get slammed. I have one friend that came to my birthday party, but then when I asked her to hang out again several more times, it seemed like she was always doing something, and another one of my friends who has now moved out of state worked two jobs and didn’t seem to have time in her schedule.

  23. Emily December 28, 2013 at 12:48 am #

    @Bob Cavanaugh–Often, people use “busy” as a code phrase for “not interested in pursuing/continuing a friendship with you.” If you find yourself consistently on the receiving end of that message, the best thing to do is to take a look at your interactions with others. If, upon further reflection, you don’t see anything wrong with your own actions, then it might be time to find new friends. Even if your existing friends are telling the truth, and they really are that busy, wouldn’t you rather be friends with people who actually have time to be with you? I’ve been in the same situation before, and my answer was simply to learn to enjoy my own company more, and in the course of doing that, other people gravitated to me. This was in university, so I just kept living my life as I normally would, but detached from my old friends, and just by serendipity, I made new friends, in choir and orchestra, in painting class, at the gym, and through other friends. So, what I’m saying is, when your friends are “too busy” for you, don’t just stay at home; go out and find your own fun. Join a community organization that fits with your interests, or try something new if you want to cultivate a new interest–for example, I joined a steel band almost a year ago. You can also volunteer through places like the YMCA, and meet new people there. My point is, don’t depend on other people for your happiness, because it won’t work.

  24. lollipoplover December 28, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    I was told by my 12 year-old son that moms and dads use Facebook to brag about their kids and kids are on Instagram. Creepy parents have Instagram accounts to track their kids (and are known to all). My son has an instagram account but lost his ipod months ago and he has not replaced it (he can if he wants to sport the cash).

    Kids want to interact with their peers. There has to be a healthy mix of real life encounters with online/text communication. Everyone needs balance. I also believe that most of the problems with lack of social skills come from parents who won’t say no. They take Junior out to dinner and order for him, handing him their iphone to keep them quiet and scratch their head in a few years when kid demands electronic devise and won’t order for himself or say please or thank you to servers. Kids need enforced limits. Period.

  25. Warren December 28, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    What is lacking is the “in person” social skills. Tech allows them to socialize from the comfort of their device, without having to read facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. This severely handicaps them in adult live.

    No amount of tech will replace face to face interaction. Even the forms of video chat don’t, as people are different, guarded while on these forums.

  26. Beth Holmes December 28, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Very interesting premise. I want to add to those who say that they don’t like the phone. I’m a Introvert who is social and likes people, but I have always hated to talk on the phone and I’m 49! The internet has been a godsend to me — no more talking on the phone. I can order from catalogs and order pizza etc… without talking to a person. I have several good friends where I live and we can go a whole week without talking on the phone or in person because we are very busy with kids etc.. but we interact on Facebook or via e-mail and we plan our live in person socializing that way too without every picking up the phone. My very extroverted sister thinks this is odd as she is ALWAYS on the phone. In contrast she’s rarely on social media!

  27. susan Jackson December 28, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    My kids (girls, ages 21, 18 and 16) have always loved socializing with their friends. When we lived a distance from their friends, it meant me having to drive or host get togethers. When we moved to a neighborhood, it became easier. I make sure they can ask their friends over, for movie nights, sleepovers, even after school for homework projects. I compliment them when they help keep the house clean so that we CAN have impromptu visitors. I do have to drive them places, we don’t have mas transportation, but if it means that they want to go out to a diner after a play with a bunch of friends,I drove them and sat at another table…letting them have the experience. Our school principal said “Know who your child’s friends are. Have them over. Popcorn and Koolaid don’t cost much.” It made a huge difference in our girl’s lives and guess what? Two are successful in college and one’s a very well adjusted teen who cooks dinners, helps clean, and holds doors open for me and other people. Kids (guys and girls) still talk about the good times at our house…which included a stick horse rodeo at one 15 year old birthday…and a retro- Nintendo 64 tournament they still rave about…none of it planned by me…just impromptu stuff that happens. Keeping them safe but still socializing.

  28. J.T. Wenting December 28, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Same here Beth. Since I came online I became much less introvert.
    I still have trouble with phones, hate the darn things, but I have tons of good friends online. Second life, skype, email, in the past IRC.
    We hardly if ever meet offline because they’re all over the world, it would be hideously expensive to go visit them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not friends I care a lot about and worry about them if there’s no contact for a while.

    I don’t use facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc. Those are for exhibitionist junkies who just want the whole world to know they had a diet coke 5 minutes ago it often seems and think that world is interested.

  29. SOA December 28, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    I am actually very grateful for facebook and email. With young kids I don’t have a lot of time to talk on the phone. When the phone rings I usually don’t even answer it as I am always in the middle of something. It never rings when it is conveinent for me. But with facebook I can message a friend with I have time and then they can look at it and replay back when they have time.
    That way no one is caught at a bad time. That way we don’t have kids screaming in the background and bugging us while we try to have a conversation. I can stop in the middle of a message and deal with whatever and then come back to it later. Can’t really do that with a phone conversation.
    So through facebook I actually am probably better able to socialize with other people. I can set up playdates and mom’s night outs with the event feature. I think if it was up to just phone I would lose contact with most people.

  30. Jenny Islander December 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    @Warren: Around the time it became possible to chitchat with your thumbs on your phone without spending tons for the latest greatest, I started reading widely scattered reports of teens who responded to a simple “Hi, how are you doing?” with a baffled stare. Not even a mumbled, “Oh, fine,” but a wall-eyed “Guh what planet what are those mouth noises” stare.

    Re the difference between online socializing and meatspace socializing: I am extremely awkward socially; it took me years to learn more than the (formerly) usual adolescent “Oh, fine.” What helped me immensely was this thing we are talking on right now. The slower pace of a forum/blog conversation lets me stop and think about what I am saying without panic. I can revise before posting and “eavesdrop” on many, many conversations in public fora to see how other people do it. I think the Internet/Web/Whatever They Call It Now is the best thing that ever happened to introverts and shy people.

    BUT. I also know what this place does to extraverts. My former coworker’s bubbly, social daughter got e-privileges at about age 14. Suddenly she was failing her classes. Why? Because she was up until 10, 11, 1:30, chatting. Most of the time she couldn’t even remember what the conversation was about, she was just flying on the endorphins of having an all!social!all!the!time! life. It felt so good that she didn’t want to stop. Meanwhile she grumped at her family and fell asleep in class because she was so tired during the day. And she didn’t sit in the lunchroom with her circle of friends, because actually having to open up your mouth and make the words come out was not as quick or colorful as being able to shoot .gifs at each other all night long.

  31. anonymous this time December 28, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Thank God my kid loves sports. I never thought I’d say that, but I’m glad he’s got something going on besides his handheld. And he’s getting better about calling people on the phone. He HATES it, but he’s working through it. Good on him.

    My other one is a real counter-culture weirdo, and thank God for that, too. Even at 9, she’s critical of fashion-and-facebook-osbessed teens, social climbers and hyper-competitive scenes. She’d rather make a world out of a discarded box than stare at the screen anyway. It’s only when she’s denied the boxes that she joneses for Barbie vids.

    My husband’s kids are all about fitting in. They just want whatever the kid who is a couple of years older than they are wants. Brand-names, fashion shoes, and handhelds for the sake of status are where they are at. At ages 7 and 11. Gah.

    Anyway, my oldest is on Facebook, but I don’t think he’s got a lot of patience for it. He unfriended me because it was awkward for him to see my posts that alluded to family. Poor guy. Understandable!

  32. Buffy December 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    “Those are for exhibitionist junkies who just want the whole world to know they had a diet coke 5 minutes ago”

    To be fair, this is not what all or even most Facebook users use it for. For me, FB has been invaluable in keeping up with my far-flung extended family and younger nieces and nephews. And I can’t remember the last time anyone posted about what they had to drink or eat, unless it was a restaurant recommendation. I’m not convinced that wishing one’s friends a Merry Christmas, for example, and posting a family photo is really exhibitionist-junkieism.

  33. Andy December 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    @J.T. Wenting “Those are for exhibitionist junkies who just want the whole world to know they had a diet coke 5 minutes ago it often seems and think that world is interested.”

    That mostly depends on who your friends, acquitances and family are. People post on facebook and twitter what they post and those are many different things. If your friends/family are exhibitionist junkies then you are going to get coke stuff. If they are too much into politics, then you are going to get too much of their political opinions. And if they are extremely considerate people, you will get considerate feed.

    As for twitter, I use it as alternative content aggregator to get political and professional news. I follow few people I consider knowledgeable and who I respect and read some of what they recommend as good.

    Otherwise said, it is what you make out of it.

  34. Kay December 28, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    This seems like a good explanation but I still see teens and even young adults together and yet, still working their phones! They might go out together but they still have to give a social media play by play. They go out to eat but don’t converse because they’re in their phones. I remember asking an amusement park forum lately how’s come the crowd in the queues don’t get pumped up like they did in older days for the nighttime roller coaster rides. Everybody said they’re all looking at their phones instead of living in the physical moment. I really think social media and technology is an addiction that goes beyond parental interference in their children’s social lives.

  35. J.T. Wenting December 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    This in the morning paper today:
    Parents chasing their kids off facebook.
    Teens are using facebook ever less because their parents want to ‘friend’ them. Out of shame the children switch to sites like whatsapp and twitter instead.

    according to the 16-18 year olds in the study, facebook is dead and burried, despite the other sites being inferior.


    So want your kids to stop using facebook? Create an account and ‘friend’ them 🙂

  36. Natalie December 29, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Great article.

    But this:

    “So, parents of America: The problem is you; the solution is you.”

    was gold, and can be applied to much of child rearing.

  37. Buffy December 29, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    “posting a family photo is really exhibitionist-junkieism”

    I meant NOT exhibitionist junkieism. We really need an edit button!

  38. Bob Cavanaugh December 29, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    @Emily, that’s an excellent point. My question is though, have you ever wanted to hang out with for example your bandmates outside of practices and performances? If so what has been the result of that?

  39. Emily January 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    @Bob Cavanagh–I’m fairly introverted, I don’t have much in common with most of the other members of the steel band (who range in age from about eight through retirement age), and I don’t really want to hang out with them outside of steel band. If I did, we’d probably organize it via Facebook. As it is, I spend four or five hours with them each week, over the course of two rehearsals, and more time if we have a performance on top of that. When I was in high school, I’d mostly hang out with my friends from the band during lunch/spares and after school. Between that, rehearsals, performances, competitions, festivals, and travelling, we saw plenty of each other. I also had friends from student council, theatre, and other places, as well as the “been around since grade nine” group. I spent more time with my student council friends during spirit week, or with my theatre friends in the run-up to a major event (the musical in grade twelve, or the play I wrote and co-directed in OAC, for example).

    University was the same kind of deal–the music building was “home base” for myself and my fellow music majors, and while I had friends from other places (feminist group, the gym, painting, yoga, the “been around since first year” crowd, etc.), most of them weren’t as close as my music friends, but for the ones that were, we’d make our own plans to meet up individually/in small groups, if we wanted to. Anyway, I experienced some of the typical exclusion and other “Mean Girl” tactics during those years, but I’d mostly just find other friends to be with, which was an option for me, because I never put all of my social eggs in one basket. So, if my music friends were being stupid, I’d find someone else to be with. I think that that’s an important skill for adults to have too–if you’re being snubbed, or if everyone in a certain circle suddenly becomes “too busy” to hang out (either for real, or because they’re trying to subtly drop you), then you don’t let them be your only option. It’s also possible for me to get my “social fix” in non-traditional ways, like at steel band, or through “semi-social” activities such as Zumba or yoga class.

    Maybe it helps that I’m introverted, but I don’t need to be with people constantly. My parents didn’t really understand this when I was in school, but the way I saw it, I was with people all day, every day, at school, and often after school. During high school, I liked these people, but enough was enough. Before that, during elementary school, I was the “geek” because I was overweight, unathletic, and academically gifted. I could barely stand school. Sometimes, they’d try to send me to the skating rink at the park to “socialize and get some exercise,” but I’d usually just leave my brother there and go home, because the experience was torture for me.