Change is the only constant. This might be one of the most accurate descriptions of technology development in the past 20 years. True enough, we swapped our pagers for smartphones phones and introduced tablets and smart gadgets in our lives. By our example, our kids learn that in order to keep up with the changes, they need to adapt to new technologies. As a parent of two kids, I am aware of the effect social media has on young generations and the importance of educating kids on how to use the same.
And while America’s newest generation, dubbed Gen Alpha, is younger than 12 but can already out text their tech-savvy Millennial parents, I wonder how social media is influencing our kids on a daily basis.
Beneficial Effects on Children
Digital technologies have become a universal feature of our kids’ lives. Their exposure to screens begins early in their lives. Sure, the introduction of digital technologies can help young children grow and learn. However, we need to pay attention to the context in which they use digital technologies.
- How does this help children learn, engage, express, imagine, or explore?
- Does it complement, and not interrupt, children’s learning experiences and natural play patterns?
1. Communication and Socialisation
When it comes to the effect of social media, we are almost always focused on the negative aspects it brings to our adolescent children. However, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey on teens’ social media habits and experiences, the majority of young people use social media to stay connected with their friends or make a new friendship. The research also showed that younger generations are more likely to interact with their friends online. Six-in-ten teens say they spend time with their friends online every day or almost every day. This is in compared with 24% who spend time with their friends in person.
Observing these numbers out of context, we’d be quick to blame social media for diminishing face/to/face interaction. However, young people who were part of the Pew Research Center survey agreed that they have too many obligations that do not allow them to hang out with their friends. They concluded that social media helps them to stay in touch with their peers whenever they have some free time. Nearly half of teens who participated in the survey said they sometimes spend time in online groups or forums. The chat groups allow them to interact with people who share common interests.
2. Enhanced Learning Opportunities
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that kids also use social media networks and chat groups to discuss homework and other school-related topics. These platforms allow them to exchange ideas by gathering outside the classroom and collaborating on the given assignments. This practice has proven the most beneficial with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since it has forced schools to close, thus having children ‘go to school from home’. There’s also a record of schools successfully using blogs as teaching tools. Blogs can help children reinforce their English skills in written expression and creativity.
3. An Outlet for Their Voice to be Heard
With the introduction of digital technologies, we are no longer solely dependent on traditional media to give us information on the world happenings. With a smartphone in our hands, we are able to share through the platforms the images and videos of what’s happening in our part of the world. The content we post is available for the whole world to see. Why is this important?
Children care about the problems that arise in their societies. And social media platforms are their starting point for communicating their messages and starting movements.
From Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Yara Shahidi, Jamie Margolin, Marley Diaz, Desmond is Amazing and many others, children use social media as one of their tools not only to advocate on issues such as climate change, but also on issues including gun control, education, and LGBTQ rights.
Research on Digital Activism
Ofcom, the regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, created a report for the last year based on interviews with around 3,500 parents and children. This report about media use and attitudes, states the increase of the proportion of 12-15-year-olds who use “social media to support causes and organizations by sharing and commenting on posts.” It is found that one in 10 children in the age category signed an online petition in the last year.
In the same research, Ofcom found that 55% of parents and carers believe that the benefits of youngsters being online outweighed the risks. According to this research, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp were ranked as the most popular social media websites.
Key of a Good Influence: Use Social Media Wisely
The role of digital technologies should be to promote learning and socialising opportunities for children. As parents and caregivers our goal must be focused on educating children about the risks of using it and explain how it can be harmful as well as helpful. The key to a healthy relationship with digital technologies such as social media platforms is education.
1. Impact of social media on mental health
There are several ways in which the usage of social media platforms can impact our children. It is up to us to talk to our kids and explain the impact that social media can have on our mental health. Give them examples and teach them to appreciate their time, bodies and opinions. Monitor their behaviour and reach if you see warning signs of a negative impact. Here are some things to watch out for.
- Fear of missing out (FOMO) is one of the problems that might arise from social media, as your kid might feel scared of missing out on a positive experience that someone else is having. Another thing to watch out for would be a comparison to other social media users. Teach your kid early on about the unhealthy use of social media filters that manipulate the way our bodies and faces look.
- Spending too much time on social media can lead to poor sleep. As the kids grow older and gain access to more social media platforms (besides TikTok), they might develop a habit to mindlessly scroll through the feed late into the night.
- It is also important to note that social media can be very addictive. It has a powerful draw for many people that leads to them checking the number of likes on the latest posts on social media platforms.
- While social media makes it easier to meet new friends, it also enables bullying behavior with little effort. Here is advice on how to prevent cyberbullying.
2. Teach your kids how to filter information
Knowing how to distinguish fake news from real ones is an important skill to have. Explain to your kids that people don’t always use facts when highlighting a situation, and might use the same incorrect information to target and spread hate against innocent individuals. That is why it is important to check the source of information and not blindly believe everything that is shared on social media platforms and the internet in general.
3. Social media is a tool and not a substitute for face to face socialisation
One of the main assumptions when it comes to the usage of social media is its negative impact on a face to face interaction. While face to face interaction is important for building certain social skills such as the use of the body language, a recent study has proven that social media use has no significant negative effect on social interactions or social well-being. In fact, the study has suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions. Nonetheless, when possible organise playdates for your kids. If they have expressed an in technology, here are some great tech gifts that your kid can enjoy with their friends.
One more thing
As with everything else, balance is essential in ensuring a positive impact of social media in kids and our lives. But don’t forget kids, learn by observing our behaviour too, so it’s essential you practice what you preach. As a parent, we should make a positive example for our children. In this way, they can make the most valuable experience from it. But before you let your kid explore the world of the internet, make sure you’ve educated them on the possible risks as well as the positive aspects of it.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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