By Mary Kay Hoal
Social media has changed the world in many ways. For some, the change has been positive, for others the change has been detrimental. The future of social media and our young children’s participation in it is something parents should look forward to, not dread. That being said, it’s easy to wonder exactly what we have to look forward to when there seems to be so much for parents to worry about.
Here are five reasons why parents should feel optimistic about their kids using social media:
1. Education – Parents of toddlers today will be much more educated about the power, the pitfalls, the rules and the ramifications of social media than parents of teens today. Let’s face it, social media came at us like a landslide, and no one took the time to educate and empower parents with the tools and information that their families needed to ensure a safer and positive experience on social networking sites. Only recently are there Internet and social networking information resource sites that do just that.
2. Social media offers many benefits to our children. As social media digital participants, steered by mom or dad into the right age-appropriate, youth intended social network, our children can gain healthy advantages. These advantages include:
- Supplemental education – Whether it’s being in a kid social network that helps them learn about hermit crabs, or wanting to spell “Cincinnati” correctly, our kids are supplementing their education at home or at school.
- Digital literacy – Whether it’s learning how to upload an image to a website, or learning what constitutes cyberbullying and how not to be a bully, your child, in the right kids’ social network will learn critical digital literacy skills.
- Social skills – We may lament that interaction is less face-to-face, but that is the reality. It’s ever more important that your child develop the age-appropriate interactive skills they need while receiving positive reinforcement.
- Validation and acceptance – There’s nothing more encouraging to a child when they receive recognition in a community for their contribution. Not only does social media participation provide this opportunity, but it also provides them the opportunity to meet other kids who share the same interests.
3. Change is happening. We may have felt run over by the industry. It seems no one cares about online privacy, the regard for our children, or making sure their products are family-friendly ready. Social sites like Yoursphere, intended just for kids take a proactive approach to protecting children’s privacy. No private information is requested and all profiles are always set to private and can’t be changed, for example. Industry leaders are helping to raise the “level of noise” in the media to help bring attention to issues online consumers need to be aware of.
Parents are starting to realize that helping their children “fudge” about their age to join Facebook doesn’t promote the right family message, so they’re talking to their kids about waiting until they’re older.
4. The social media landscape has changed. If you’re old enough to remember that there used to be only three television networks before cable came along – ABC, CBS and NBC – then be excited for the change that’s happening now. We now have cable and on demand programming. We can make choices with our kids about what shows they watch and when.
Just as we experienced a wide variety of choices in the television industry with the introduction of cable and on demand programming, we’re experiencing the same with social networks. The kids’ social networks have arrived and leaders in the category have emerged. No longer do you have to worry about your child’s online privacy. These kids’ social networks allow your children to be their true age and there’s no need to pretend your child is 13 or older to participate in the social networks aimed at adults. This is a healthy change for both our kids and the precedent we want to set about telling the truth.
Have you let your kids join a social networking site? If so, what rules do you have to keep them safe?
Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on children’s online safety and social media. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kids’ social network Yoursphere.com – sign your kids up! Mary Kay also offers parents Internet and social networking safety tips and information at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay is a part of the ABC 20/20 web avenger team as their family Internet –safety expert.