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Kids Socialize Virtually — and Spend Too Much Time Alone

I'm a wife, mother, secondary school counselor, and writer. Combining my 20+ years in the health/wellness and counseling fields, I have found my passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. I have a B.S. in Exe...

Are kids using social media to substitute for real-life friendships?

Instead of hanging out after school at each other’s houses or talking on the phone, kids are now getting their social fix from live video chat. And while a lot of this new technology connects them virtually, it is also contributing to the growing number of kids and teens who are spending more time alone and disconnected from in-person contact.

Generation Z, as they're called, is the generation born after the millennials, with the oldest members barely out of high school. For these teens and young adults, cellphones are an extension of their bodies. So it’s no wonder that apps like Houseparty, which allow kids to connect with up to seven other people at once in a live video chat, is changing the definition of “chilling out” for Generation Z.

More: Are parents of tweens and teens massive hypocrites when it comes to screen time?

So how do these apps work? Well, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, when kids first open the Houseparty app, they may be chatting with just one friend, but everyone they’re connected to on Houseparty gets a push alert that they’re “in the house,” and soon enough, the room fills up. It might even spill over into other rooms, growing organically just like a real house party.

From a business and technology standpoint, these apps make sense and are hugely successful. But when you start looking at the health consequences of kids hanging out with friends online vs. in person — both physical and emotional/mental health — you quickly start to see the drawbacks.

More: Dad texts daughter reasons he loves her mom, we all swoon

Many experts cite too much time indoors and lack of physical activity as a huge drawback to all of this technology. And then there’s this: Especially for adolescents and young adults, there are significant emotional risks associated with social media platforms, a new study reports. According to research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.

Yet those immersed in the world of tech say these apps allow kids to have more access to each other — and that’s more important than ever with so many kids’ schedules not allowing them any social time. And kids will tell you they are much more likely to turn off the TV or movies online and instead opt for hanging out and connecting with friends via live video.

So who’s got the right answer? I’m not sure if we will ever have a definitive answer to that question, but as parents, we should continue to ensure that our kids have more "in-person" human contact than they do with technology — and, as ever, pay attention to the effects on our kids as they virtually connect to each other.

More: 4 things not to say if you want to raise healthy tweens

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