The online world of social networking has encountered explosive growth. Take a site like MySpace for instance. Almost 4 years ago, MySpace had 2 million users. Nearly a year later they had 12 million. A year later it was at 72 million. Today, it is estimated that more than 110 million people are members of MySpace. Yes, these numbers reflect “membership” on MySpace and not necessarily active users, but that being said, the social networking phenomenon is a force to be reckoned with.
Online communities popular in the U.S. include MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, LiveJournal, BlackPlanet, MiGente, AsianAvenue, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut, Webkinz, Yahoo! 360°, Bebo, Vox, and Youtube. Marketed primarily to younger generations, these online communities are places where people can create personal profiles, share pictures, videos, write and read blogs (web logs), stay connected to friends and create new friendships.
When parents want to know more about social networking sites, often they are inundated with information about “What is MySpace,” “What is a blog,” “How do I know whether my son/daughter has a profile,” etc. But what many parents of teens want to know more than anything is “Why would you use social networking at all?” In other words, “What’s the big deal?”
The Internet age has brought about some major changes to interactions and relationships in the world. Like it or not, the Internet has changed the informational and relational landscape. For many parents, they want more than just practical information about Internet safety. They want to get into the minds of their teens and understand what the appeal is to social networking.
The self-proclaimed teen-guru Vanessa Van Patten has made a comment I find helpful (in one of her many online videos addressed to parents of teens). She explains to parents that to a teen, their online profile is like the clothing they wear, it is how they dress to the online community. In the Internet age, an online profile is a place for creativity and personal expression. What generation didn’t care about its clothing and style?
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The Pros of Social Networks
1. Keeping Informed – Private news feeds and blog posts allow teens to stay informed about what’s going on in many people’s lives. Social networks can be time-saving, allowing teens to get greater details about what their friends are doing and going through.
2. Keeping In Touch – Many people use social networking the way email has been used to keep in touch with friends who live a distance away. Online communities allow people to inform many friends about personal updates on their lives through stories, pictures, and videos.
3. Networking – It is becoming easier by the day to navigate through a social network to meet those of like interest. You can join online “groups” and forums united around common causes and needs.
4. Social Planning – Through some of these social networking sites it is very easy to plan and spread the news about an event. News about events can spread rapidly through online networks.
5. Entertainment – The Internet is full of entertaining videos and articles. Social networks allow friends to share their favorites with others.
6. A Primer for New Business Trends – The world is connected to the web. More and more businesses are using online forums and blogs to connect to their customers. More and more businesses and schools are looking at social networking sites as a means of getting to know their customers and potential employees/attendees. As teens learn responsible social networking, this can be an invaluable tool for future success in the business world.
Whether we view it as a healthy or unhealthy trend, the notion of privacy in our Internet age is different than in generations prior. Parents often wonder why anyone would want to “air their dirty laundry” to the whole world, write online journals containing private thoughts, and display pictures or videos that can never be erased. These are very good questions for both teens and parents to ask.
Instead of coming down on the social networking world as a whole, parents might use their life experience to help a teen understand responsible online networking. They just might thank you for it later.