Sunday, August 2, 2009...8:11 pm

Facebook, teenagers, suicide

Jump to Comments

Apparently, social networking sites prevent teenagers from developing rounded relationships, makes them treat friendship as a commodity and helps drive them to suicide.
It seems that Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols is not a big fan of SMS and email, either.

Friendship is not a commodity, friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it’s right.

Well, yes. But I suspect this little outburst confuses symptom with cause. Any examination of the teenage high school experience (albeit perhaps mediated by Hollywood) reveals that teenagers often treat friendship as a commodity. Facebook and SMS just help them refine this a little.
Should we be worried? Well, as I’ve found, teenagers can be a bit obsessive about keeping up with their Facebook wall, but on the whole I’m not going to panic about it. After all, what are they going to be doing if they’re not sitting at home damaging themselves with excessive virtual community membership? Sitting in big gangs in the park drinking cider and getting into fights? Well – at least that’s real physical interaction.
It all reminds me a bit of the Seduction of the Innocent panic in the US in the 1950s – the adult world got into a lather about kids reading violent comics and scapegoated them, with mass comic book burnings and Senate sub-committee hearings.
Nowadays the sight of kids reading comic books is more likely to evoke feelings of nostalgia than a fear of social collapse. And in a few decades no doubt the same will be true for video games – another contemporary adult bête noir.
Meanwhile, let’s have a look at that dysfunctional teenage experience, with not a laptop in sight…


  • Nice piece. I would agree that time spent online is most assuredly better out rebel-rousing on the nearest street corner, but I would contend that the depth of social networking has created a monster it might not be able to control.
    This generation has been stunted by the ADD-inducing Sesame Street which sought to teach all kids the importance of reading and the value of caring in tightly created 10 minute segments. Always looking for the next fix, this generation went through MSN, AOL, MySpace and is currently devouring Facebook and Twitter.
    As I sit here and type on my computer with Facebook lurking somewhere in my background, I could not – in good faith – call for the elimination of a medium that we (the me generation) use so frequently and for the sake of efficiency. But, the consequences of a virtual identity can be disastrous for those that find little comfort in social settings that don’t involve a keyboard or mouse.
    In cyberspace we am free to be who we want, when we want, with whom we want to. In real life, we are left without this finely constructed persona and the comfort it provides.
    While Facebook and social networking have taken off, I wonder if our identities have gone with them. A world without computers would indeed be a traumatizing place to be for this generation, but it might also force most people to take stock in who they really are.
    (I should tweet this).
    All the best,

  • Yes – it can be so much easier to manage an identity online (well, if you’re that way inclined). Given that I’m old as the hills, I can’t really speak for younger web users about whether pervasive digital communication actually stunts their offline personality (So thanks for your perspective). But just as we’ve adjusted to most other forms of technology, I imagine we’ll come to an accommodation with this one…

  • Watching the trailer for Mean Girls actually made me WANT to commit suicide. I think a lot of teenagers have always treated friendship as a practice ground for relationships with the opposite sex and hire and fire each other with relentless cruelty.
    A mobile ‘phone is an incredibly useful tool for communication but it should not be used in place of conversation. Apparently, this generation is becoming incredibly indecisive because they never have to make arrangements and stick to them because everything is fluid all the time. Computers are fantastic tools for interpreting and producing creative ideas but should not be used in place of creativity. This seems to be the over-riding problem. The technology is wonderful and I wouldn’t be without it, but is rapidly becoming a showcase for the truly mediocre; the uncreative, the inarticulate and the inadequate and then magnifying those weaknesses tenfold. Or does it? I don’t know? What do you think? I don’t know, what do you think?
    Interestingly, I showed a repellent text written completely in ‘text-speak’ to my 81 year old mother, who laughed and said “That’s almost identical to the language we used on teleprinters in the 1940’s. Plus ca change….

Leave a Reply