How do social media and modern telecommunications affect adolescents?

The Associate Press (via the Miami Herald) reports on the influence of social media (Facebook, MySpace) and mobile communications (texting, instant messaging) on today’s teens – echoing a prior generation’s debate over the influence of TV on youth.

Is Facebook really worse for teenagers’ brains than the mindless reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” that their parents consumed growing up?

Douglas Gentile, a child psychologist and associate professor at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, who studies the effects of media on children, says texting, Facebook and video games are not inherently bad. Nor are they inherently better or worse than watching TV, although they do pose different risks, such as cyberbullying.

But research has shown that the more time kids spend in front of screens – whether it’s TV or instant-messaging – the worse their school performance. “That doesn’t mean it’s true for every kid, but it makes sense, that for every hour a kid is playing video games, it’s an hour that they’re not doing homework or reading or exploring or creating,” he said.

Gentile calls this the “displacement hypothesis. If screen time is displacing doing their homework, that’s bad. But if their homework is done, well, so what?”

The Pew Research Center has posted an interesting presentation on youth and mobile phone use that gives some additional context to this debate:

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