The head of the Catholic Church in England is claiming that Facebook and other social networking sites are leading to teen suicide.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols claims that the rise of social networks means that teenagers aren’t developing real relationships (what he calls “transient relationships”) that could drive them to kill themselves
“Friendship is not a commodity, friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it’s right,” the ABC quoted him as saying. “I think there’s a worry that an excessive use, or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we’re losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that’s necessary for living together and building a community.”
The crux of his argument seems to be that teens are forgoing real world relationships for online ones. I don’t have the statistics to disprove him, and its likely that is some cases this may be true. The problem though with the line is that it’s a gross generalization that ignores both the good social networking offers, and the real underlying problems that are a cause of teen suicide.
Teens who find it difficult to make friends in real life don’t magically become suicidal due to Facebook; the problem is pre-existing. But many teens who may find it difficult to make friends in real life are able to connect online to others, to make new friends, and to actually gain some self worth. The internet allows them to connect to others like them, others who share their interests where they are unable to find people who do in their local community. For the Catholic Church to rally against this makes about as much sense as their stance on condoms and birth control; none. Indeed suggesting that teens who connect online don’t have real friendships is dangerous, and is far more likely to cause teen suicide than using Facebook or MySpace will.