Handling Social Media With Your Kids
Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you're aware of the rise in popularity of social media with teens. From texting on cell phones to websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, today's kids are engaging in social media at an ever-increasing rate.
I probably don't have to say this, but the reality is: Social media is not a fad, and has become part of the fabric of American youth culture. It's estimated that during this year (2009), 15.5 million teen Internet users (75%) will use social networking websites[i]. Facebook alone is said to have 300 million active users worldwide.[ii] and is the third most-visited website on the Internet, behind Google and Yahoo! In the course of a month, some 24% of all Internet users visit Facebook. And, two other social media sites, YouTube and MySpace hold the fourth and fifth spots as most visited websites in the U.S.[iii]. Still, parents have to make choices about whether they will allow their adolescent kids to use these websites. And, if they allow their kids access to these sites, parents must provide both boundaries and oversight to their usage.
Talking to your kids about social media should be a top priority. Here are some of my thoughts on handling social media in your home.
Understand Why Today's Kids Use Social Media.
When we were teenagers and couldn't hang out face-to-face with our friends, phones were the communication tools of the day. But, today's teens now have many social media options such as social networking websites, instant messaging and using cell phone text messaging. Our kids find these options more to their liking than talking on the phone. They can multitask better via online methods, communicate briefly, and can't be overheard by their parents.
Also, it's been suggested that due to parents' safety concerns in today's culture, many kids don't have the freedom to hang out with peers in settings that were common for us when we were teens. As a result, kids use social media, where they can hang out "virtually" with their peers to socialize, chat, and share their thoughts.
When it comes to video, today's teens don't have to sit in front of a television for their entertainment. Social media websites such as YouTube, Hulu, and others, make it possible for kids to watch what they want, when they want—on their computers and cell phones. On these sites, they can watch, download, comment, and share videos virally with others, and even upload their own videos. More and more, teens are turning to social media to get their entertainment fix.
Understand the Dangers of Social Media.
Just a Click Away: Mature and Inappropriate Content
Although it is possible for kids to have a safe and positive experience using social media, understand that dangers lurk close by. It's important to know that kids are always a click or two away from content that you don't want them to view. By 2011, it's estimated that the Internet will be the number one distributor of pornography. It's not a stretch to say that if your kids are online, they will be exposed to porn (even if accessed unintentionally.) The number one demographic for new users of Internet pornography are guys, ages 11 to 17. If I were a teen today, I don't know if I could avoid the temptation of viewing online pornography. The dangers abound. My fear is that many of today's teens will end up on the road to porn addiction.
Predators on the Prowl
Because of the veil of anonymity afforded by social media, some sexual predators pose as imposters, giving false information about their age and identity, including criminal histories, in order to gain the trust of "friends." They quite simply pretend to be someone that they are not. Beyond this, recent research indicates that most predators are actually up front in engaging their victims online. They just search for kids who are willing to interact with them. In fact, of the kids who are victimized by sexual predators, most willingly meet with the predator knowing that they are interested in sex. Kids who engage in at-risk behaviors "offline" also turn out to be the most at-risk online.[iv]
Many kids use social media to experiment with their social skills. The online atmosphere emboldens kids to communicate in ways that they would not when in face-to-face conversation, or to engage in behaviors they typically would not. Sexual comments, "sexting" (taking semi-nude, nude, or other provocative photos for distribution via the Internet or cell phones, as well as receiving and forwarding them to others,) criticisms, rants, and even cyber-bullying, are all commonly found in social media venues.