As parents, we often hear stories about the shadowy side of social media. While problems can crop up, the networking tool can be instrumental in helping kids learn, connect, raise awareness, and grow into more mindful communicators.
Invites creative expression. Kids who have a passion for photography, art, video production, music, or writing can use applications like blogs, YouTube, and Instagram to express themselves.
Maggie Pike, a university freshman, says she uses her Instagram page to post photos of world events and people of different cultures. “Social media can be a great source of creativity,” she says. “There are poems being posted, interesting questions, funny or cool videos... Positive examples are everywhere, more so than the negative aspects of social media.”
Tip: Discuss with your child how they will respond to any negativity that might come their way from Internet trolls and cyberbullies. Remove geolocator tags from their photographs and overly-specific profile information. Establish their privacy settings and remind your kids to make positive choices online.
Channels the entrepreneurial spirit. Sandra Perez, 18, created her own YouTube channel featuring fashion and makeup demos. Perez, who plans to pursue a degree in communication, now has over 1,000 followers and has been approached by corporate sponsors. “It’s something she wanted to do anyway to practice public speaking skills, and now she has a professional site,” says Buchner, who hired Perez to work as her marketing intern.
Tip: Whether your children like to watch Minecraft videos or pin craft ideas on Pinterest, monitor what they watch and post. Even if they delete their viewing history, you can see the types of videos they’ve been watching by reviewing YouTube’s recommendations.
Connects friends. Social media can give kids the opportunity to meet peers who share their interests, and Buchner believes it can boost their confidence in face-to-face interactions. “Sometimes really shy kids or kids who don’t have a lot of friends are more comfortable finding friends through social media,” says Buchner. “It’s an opportunity to tread lightly and put yourself out there a little bit.”
Tip: Balance out your child’s tech use with ‘in-real-life’ playdates and activities. Also role model responsible device use, set consistent tech-use boundaries, and establish digital citizenship rules.
Promotes awareness. “Students will constantly post different things that are going on that they are involved in. Maybe they got an award, won a sporting event, or are volunteering at a Ronald McDonald House,” says Kim Urenda, a high school counselor.
And social media allows for a deeper understanding of various cultures and world issues. “Positive uses of social media by our young people supports social justice and advocacy for humanity, and it gives them an understanding of world issues in a very relevant way,” says Deb Woodard, a University Counseling Coordinator.
Tip: Show your kids sites that other young people have started that are healthy examples of positive social media use. Altruistic kids can complement tweets and posts about their campaign with video interviews and short informational clips to educate and share with their audiences.
Raises critical thinkers. More educators are integrating social media into the classroom beginning in elementary school. “Our biggest push is media literacy, educating students to question the motive behind what’s being posted,” says Urenda.
Teachers also role model how to use platforms like YouTube, Skype, and Twitter to connect with experts and bring textbook materials to life. “If you can see an ice castle in Siberia, then it makes it really interesting when you are reading about it,” says Sarah Pike, an elementary school principal. “And the kids thought it was exciting when we did some Skyping with a National Geographic tornado chaser.
Pike finds that interactive technology motivates students and makes learning relevant. “Schools,” she says, “must stay current.”
“We are training kids for jobs that we can’t even foresee because information is changing so fast. They have got to be able to use these tools to communicate and collaborate.”
Tip: After your next family vacation, invite your kids to make an iMovie with their favorite photos and videos, create a digital photo album, post a review of their vacation on a family blog, and/or post pictures on Instagram.
Freelance journalist Christa and her husband are the parents of two boys. She is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.
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