Just as children under 10 have to be guided and protected when crossing the street, parents of young children should be very careful if they allow them to use Facebook, according to Amihai Hamburger, head of the Center for Internet Psychology Research at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Speaking at a recent conference on “Digital Empowerment,” Hamburger said children addicted to Facebook could become depressed and unrealistic about life and friendship. “Parents must take responsibility as teachers and as parents,” he said, adding that children younger than 10 can develop strong Facebook skills, but without life skills lack the necessary common sense and caution.

“Reticent children who lack friends could become victims on the social network as they become desperate for real social interaction, and there are those who take advantage,” he warned. Social networks are a potential “honey trap” for such children, as they “invest more” than their outgoing counterparts and find the Internet a “more pleasant play field” where they spend most of their time and think it’s the solution to their loneliness.

“Facebook can empower but can also shatter a child,” said Dr. Miran Boniel-Nissim of the University of Haifa. “Tough written exchanges can bring about tragic results for children. They can become less sensitive the moment they click ‘Like’ on a curse because they don’t see the tear-filled eyes of the child who was cursed. Kids think there are no dangers in Facebook [compared to websites in general] because they are in touch only with ‘friends’ and thus feel they are protected and safe,” said Boniel-Nissim. “The average 13-year-old has some 200 ‘friends’ on Facebook.. They don’t really know all of them.”

Facebook cannot empower children unless it is accompanied by genuine social activity, said Dr. Noam Lemelsteich, dean and founder of the center’s Sammy Ofer School of Communications.

“In the past. it was said that that the day a person could express himself digitally and not face to face, he will become depressive, and today, this is the real question in both adults and children.” Facebook tends to avoid the expression of negative experiences, said Dr. Avner Caspi of the Open University. Thus people compare their real lives with the “wonderful Facebook lives” of other people – and this could lead to depression. “Thanks to the technology, we feel ‘together’ all the time,” concluded Prof. Yoram Eshet, also of the Open University. “But in fact, the opposite is the truth, as the technology isolates our world.” The research found that 35 percent of them were “virtual friends” they didn’t know and had never met. “When there is such an ‘Internet friend,’ he is likely to be ranked the lowest compared to face-to-face friends.”

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