Social Networking Sites
Finding a Balance Between Their Risks and Benefits
HE TECHNOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENT IS RAPidly changing. New communication technologies are often adopted by adolescents first, with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook salient examples. On the Internet, tremendous shifts in patterns of use occur rapidly. This continuous evolution poses a tremendous challenge to parents, health professionals, policymakers, and law enforcement. By the time professionals fully understand the risks and benefits of one particular online environment, that environment may have changed so thoroughly that intervention and prevention strategies are not as applicable as originally designed. Social networking sites comprise several different communications tools that have been popular with youth for years—these include chat rooms, instant messaging, and blogging. Users can create profiles that display personal information and upload pictures and videos similarly as on a blog. Communication can occur in real time using chat room and instant messaging capabilities or can be posted for users to read at their leisure as in e-mail and on message boards. As a tool for personal expression and
See also pages 27, 35, and 91
connection with others, social networking sites appear to have grabbed adolescents’ attention in a unique and possibly permanent manner. But what is it about a social networking site that draws millions of adolescents? If we put ourselves in their minds, the answer becomes clear: social networking sites allow teenagers to explore their identities, make new friends and continue to develop long-standing relationships, explore their sexuality, voice their opinions, and be creative—all normal aspects of healthy adolescent development.1-3 Indeed, teenagers are growing up in a media-rich society in which the Internet is simply another environment akin to home and school, with MySpace analogous to their favorite store at the...