Depressed teens need to shut off social media sites, stop texting, experts suggest

Published: Monday, Nov. 5 2012 3:15 p.m. MST

Some experts believe that Facebook, endless texting and other activities that keep kids "connected" actually add to a major disconnect that is hard on those who have depression.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Some experts believe that Facebook, endless texting and other activities that keep kids "connected" actually add to a major disconnect that is hard on those who are depressed or struggling. The answer, they say, is to spend face-to-face time with others and have real conversations.

That's the theory behind Camp Kivu, a Colorado adventure camp begun by Andy Braner in 2001. Since then, he told The Daily Beast, he's seen 20,000 youths pass through the doors, where they hand in their cellphones to be locked away and they unplug from the continuous online presence that is the after-school reality of most teenagers these days — and of many adults, too.

Braner, who wrote "Alone," believes people are made more lonely by Facebook, Twitter and other online sites designed for social interaction. At his camp, the youths instead do trust exercises, converse often and deeply, and play hard together. They also explore career options.

"If you look at what Facebook's done to what I call friendship, we've created this illusion of friendship with a click and a 'like,' esepcially in this young generation of students who don't know life without social media," he told the Beast, noting that a whole generation believes social networks are the "norm" for social interactions.

He's not the first to raise the issue. A few months ago, The Atlantic suggested the same thing with an article called, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"

The author, Stephen Marche, tells of the death of Yvette Vickers, a B-movie star who was discovered perhaps months after she died at age 83, her computer running, her time of death unknown, her social connections virtual and seemingly not quite real enough to notice she was gone. He follows it with a deep look at both research and pop culture around the nature of relationships.

In the end, Marche concludes that "Nostalgia for the good old days of disconnection would not just be pointless, it would be hypocritical and ungrateful. But the very magic of the new machines, the efficiency and elegance with which they serve us, obscures what isn’t being served: everything that matters. What Facebook has revealed about human nature — and this is not a minor revelation — is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. ... Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect."

"We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being 'alone together,'" notes a New York Times column by Sherry Turkle, who is a professor at MIT and the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.”

Turkle describes the connected-isolation this way: "In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect."

According to research from the Australia Institute, reported in The Herald Sun, lonely people look to social media for connections, but they don't have as many Facebook friends. Of those they do have, fewer are considered "real friends."

The study's author, David Baker, who directs the institute, notes the quality of friendships is what matters, not how many you have. And friendships in cyberspace are not a cure for loneliness.

"Given the rapid increase in the use of social media and the government's policy focus on 'social inclusion,' there is a risk that social networking sites may be overpromoted, especially to younger people," he told the newspaper.

The Guardian was curious about the issue in April after one of the studies on the topic came out, so it asked readers whether they felt sites like Facebook and Twitter helped with meaningful relationships. Wrote Ruth Spencer of the responses: "Most of the submissions indicated that while digital 'friending' isn't as deep or meaningful as real-life interaction, social tools like Facebook are more likely to curb feelings of isolation rather than enduce them.'"

The responses ranged from tales of how people who are geographically apart remained close to how one young woman who had been "connected" through social media had to let it go in a study program and learned, instead, to make friends with the real people around her.

Advice from the Herald Sun? "Get out more. Turn off the computer. Make real-life friends and meet up in the real world. Then update your Facebook status while you're sitting across from them."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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