Kids younger and younger are adopting the digital communications tools available. The Millenials (those between the ages of 10 and 20) represent the largest percentage of these users. The fastest-growing segment of kids online is those 2–11 years of age.
I initially wanted to delay my children’s foray into the world of connectivity through social media. Perhaps you’re like me, but after five children ranging in age from 7 to 20, I can tell you this: Your kids should be connected online, and the sooner the better. Here’s why:
1. It’s Inevitable.
It’s not a matter of “if”; it’s a matter of “when.” As you read, children as young as two are online. This is why you need to be proactively involved in making sure your child is connected. If you aren’t, they’ll do it on their own, and you’ll miss the opportunity to steer them in the right direction to kids-only social networks instead of the adult-intended ones.
2. It’s Educational.
When your child is participating in a kid’s social network, they’re supplementing the education they’ve received in the classroom and at home. Whether it’s learning about “ways they can be green” or “5 tips for writing your own song,” the experience is beneficial to them.
3. It’s Lots of Fun.
Let’s face it, a positive comment from a friend, creating an avatar, playing hundreds of games, or creating a sphere to show off their interests are all sure ways to make your child smile as they have fun using social media.
4. It’s A Creative Outlet.
Unlike any other media, social media gives our kids the ability to develop and pursue technical, creative, design, artistic, and writing skills. It’s an outlet where their imagination is their only limitation, and that’s a wonderful thing!
5. It Expands Your Child’s Social Circle.
While real-life friendships are absolutely the most important, social media connections allow your child to meet other kids that share the same interests, talents and aspirations.
6. It’s A Great Communication Vehicle.
Our kids live digital lives. It’s proven to be a wonderful and necessary tool to stay connected.
7. It’s A Participatory Media.
No more concerns of “turning into a vegetable” if you watch too much TV. With online social connectivity, our kids don’t just consume, they get to produce, become and participate in the media.
8. It’s Inspiring!
To see kids support and help one another, to share their interests and to create common ground with kids from all over the world is nothing short of being an inspiration to us all.
9. It’s Healthy.
When your child is in an environment made especially for them, where their individuality is supported, where their privacy and safety matter, where their interests are nurtured, and a community of positive interaction is the status quo, well, it’s simply a healthy experience for them.
10. To Prepare Them To Avoid The Pitfalls.
While there’s much to be gained, there are the pitfalls. Mainstream social networks like Facebook and MySpace were created by, and meant for adults. Too much personal data is collected on these networks; there is no “real privacy”; consumer data is sold; adult content is the norm; a free-for-all culture allows members to behave any which way.
Your kids need the opportunity to learn through networks intended just for them what’s okay to post, or not; how to be a good digital citizen, and why privacy matters so that when they grow up and move on to these networks, they are prepared.
Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on children’s online safety. 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 today! Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information and tips at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay appears on ABC’s 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information visit www.marykayhoal.com.
I cannot disagree more. We own no TV and are children do not use the computer. They are happier, more social, and in better health than any other children in the neighborhood. It is all about opportunity cost. When children are online, they aren’t doing something else — and for children, that lost activity or opportunity is greater than whatever they could have been doing online.
@Matt – Of course social networking cannot replace other necessary social skills. The problem with online social media is when it is not a supplement to but rather an replacement of healthy offline relationships and interactions. When kids manage their time well using social media, I don’t believe this necessarily means trading in greater opportunities.
Case in point: We use kid-friendly social media for learning opportunities with our son. He’s able to interface with other students his age. These sorts of directed uses of networking can be very productive, give him practice typing, increase his dexterity, and allow him to meet people in different parts of the world. These types of activities are a part of his homeschooling experience.
What an odd injunction (and uncompelling list of reasons). I’m fairly young (30), and I have a rich and satisfying social and intellectual life, and I conduct it all in the real world. And I did as a teenager. And as a preteen. Did the world change that much in 10 years? When I dropped my Facebook account a few years ago, did I check out of the world? When I walk around my University campus, are the countless students who are on Facebook the ones who are really living life the way it was meant to be lived?
@J.C.T. – I’m not sure that Facebook is the way life “was meant to be lived,” but neither is that the point of Mary’s post, nor do I think her point is to say those without Facebook will be somehow socially inept or deprived. At least that’s at all what I got out of her post. Her point is to say: If social networking is a part of the world of technology (and a popular one at that), then it behooves parents to be the ones to introduce their child to it, not let the rest of the world give them that introduction. Personally I plan to help my children set up their own social media accounts as a means of teaching them about social technology.
I guess the best advice to give is, first children should Friend their parents and make them a Close Friend (and vice versa) – to subscribe to all of each other’s Timeline and other comments and likes so they are accountable to each other – then turn all of your child’s security and privacy settings to the maximum to prevent outsiders finding them outside of protected same-interest peer groups. Then show them how to Friend people they already know in person, especially relatives and close friends (NOT the whole school, to prevent the opportunity for cyber bullying). Finally, give them some sensible advice about what they share with people, especially since appearances can so often be deceiving.
I think http://www.sqwishland.com is the best place for kids to be on the virtual world :)
At what age is appropriate? Kids under a certain age are still psychologically developing with their ability to distinguish reality from fiction. While I’m a huge proponent of social media and virtual worlds, under the age of 9 I start to get really hesitant about suggesting online for kids. I also, should I become a parent, will likely greatly limit TV, and TV I do allow will be commercial-free.
Your specific arguments in general seem good, except for 1 and 10. The “prepare / inevitable” argument. “It’s inevitable” is never a good reason in and of itself. I’m going to die someday. Should I pick out a coffin already? No, that’s silly. Inevitability needs to be coupled with “and the person is at a point where they are in a good position to prepare themselves.” At too young an age, I would say they are not.