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Twice I've signed up for Facebook, and twice I've canceled my account. Why did I cancel? I'm thinking the better question is why did I ever sign up? The first time, I was asked to get on Facebook in order to be able to view pictures of family members. That sounded like a good thing, so I joined. Not long into it, though, I found I had more friends than I could ever possibly keep up with, and quite honestly, more than I would ever want. I mean, who really needs 200 friends, most of them names I'd never heard of anyway? And speaking of friends, I soon found that was a term used pretty loosely on Facebook. In fact, the dialog among “friends” kind of seemed like an ever-increasing breeding ground for passive aggressive personalities. It seemed to be a safe platform for some people to spew all kinds of rude and painful jabs at other people (even “friends”) that I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have approached face to face. That is, in “real” life. Then once the comment was made, there were always others standing by to tighten the noose.

Okay, I have to be fair. I do acknowledge that many people who enjoy Facebook are decent and kind people who truly do use it for good and not for evil. They really do share family photos and keep in touch about events in their lives that are worth sharing with loved ones, and they even discipline themselves to limited time interacting there. Some people even use Facebook as a witness for God, which can be very effective. More power to them! But for the majority of users, these public web forums offer a high risk of falling into a trap of unreality in regard to healthy human communication as well as developing an actual addiction, which not only wastes time, but also damages the frontal lobe of the brain.

So, as with nearly every form of communication technology, there is good that it can do and there is bad. The question is How can the bad effects be avoided? That's a question of particular concern to parents. While parents may wish they could simply make Facebook, Twitter, and other online social networks off limits, that just isn't too realistic considering the fact that kids have constant Internet access in their daily lives.

Here are some suggestions for balance:

  • Be an example. Control your own use, and if you don't use these networks, let your kids know why. Your influence is important in their own choices.

  • Limit their time. If you see them spending more time (especially family time or homework time) on Facebook, build boundaries. Set a time limit per day, which they may use all at once or in chunks. That part is their choice. Again, this is hard to control, but let your kids know that you trust them to follow through honestly.

  • Emphasize the superior value of face to face. If they are meeting their friends on Facebook, suggest they get together at your house instead. And if they are communicating with you by Facebook instead of face to face, nip that in the bud. While it may be a good substitute if you can't be together, it is not equal to talking face to face.

  • Don't allow being waved aside while they are checking in with someone (and that includes text-messaging). Continuously being put on hold will eventually cause family members to lose interest in real communication. Make sure you show them the same respect!

Communication technology can be a blessing in some ways, but if not kept in check, it can subtly, but surely, rob people of relationship reality. When it comes to real interaction, Facebook will never measure up to face to face.

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By Gwen Scott Simmons. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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