As the mother of three boys, I appreciate the irony in suggesting that my kids could possibly benefit from having their eyes permanently locked onto screens and their thumbs flashing furiously across tiny keyboards. “Screens off” is a shout heard often in our house (shouted by me, of course). But social media aren’t all bad.
In fact, there are a myriad of benefits to be gained from engaging in social media, and they far outweigh the risks of stranger danger, online bullying, stalking, plagiarism and familiarity with spelling questionable “words” like “U” and “R.”
First, though, you should know that I’m a “techtopian,” and believe that the good of being social online far outweighs the bad. Those bad things happen, of course, just like they have always happened offline; engaging in social media doesn’t create pedophiles or bullies but rather enables people who are already inclined in those directions.
This means our job as parents remains the same as it has always been. We need to teach our children to make good decisions, to be kind in words and deeds, to think before speaking in any medium and to be careful with what they do with their photos. But we can’t be good guides for social media unless we understand how these platforms work and why.
Social media are digital communication vehicles that are easy to use (we’ll get to that in a minute), ubiquitous (this you know from playing a game of Whack-A-Mole with various devices) and inexpensive.
It is the communications part that makes these websites, apps and devices social, unlike, say, a static website that serves as a digital billboard. And here is where we begin to see the benefits for children engaging in social media.
Being a good communicator is a critical skill for success in any job. When you watch young people spread their wings socially across the web, you see a variety of interactions involving listening and responding on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. They are learning to honor what other people say, feel or share. Kids who don’t follow these norms don’t have large social networks. No one listens to the blowhard for very long. If you were hiring for an organization right now, wouldn’t you want people who are empathetic and good listeners?