It’s not very often that you’ll meet someone who doesn’t have a social media account. Sure, some people may choose to stay off Twitter and others may give up Facebook every once in a while, but the truth is, we’re addicted. Combined, there are more than 5.1 billion monthly active users on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram — and those are just a few of the most popular platforms.
Social media comes with obvious advantages, like the ability to connect with people across the globe. But there are also some inherent risks. We know first hand, for example, that social validation can impact our self-image. Imagine, then, how your kids might feel as they become active participants in these environments. Social media has become such a constant in our own lives that it can sometimes be difficult to take a step back, but there are a few things you should remember as your kids grow up online.
Kids are growing up with instant ways to connect
Not too long ago, keeping in touch with more than a handful of people required a landline telephone, answering machine, and (if you needed to call someone outside your Fave Five list) even a clunky phone book. Today, a simple tap is all it takes to connect with friends, meaning kids are better equipped than ever to stay in touch with the people they meet at summer camp — or that one friend who transfers to a new school in the middle of grade five. As teens learn to navigate these connections on their own (young kids should have some parental guidance), they’ll be able to maintain a wide, and hopefully varied, social circle.
Reminder: Some kids may find it difficult to disconnect, which can eventually lead to digital anxiety (negative feelings around their own use of technology). Beyond that, there’s also a fear that constant digital stimulation can lead to less meaningful interactions in real life.
Kids are growing up in the “sharing” economy
Selfies are often viewed as narcissistic and annoying (remember the duck face trend?), but a team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that taking and sharing selfies — as opposed to scrolling through other people’s photos — can actually help many teens feel more happy and confident. And because social media platforms are used worldwide, many represent diverse communities. Kids from all walks of life (and all races, religions, genders, and body types) can see parts of themselves represented online.
Reminder: With digital photography comes the opportunity for manipulation. Platforms that allow users to curate content, including Instagram, can have a negative effect on kids’ self-esteem because they present “airbrushed” versions of life that don’t really exist. And, of course, we also have to be wary of the content that publishers and advertisers share — teaching media literacy is key to ensuring that kids have a healthy understanding of the online world.
Kids are growing up with the freedom to express themselves
Kids develop at different rates, and sometimes school can be a lonely place for children who are out of sync with their peer group. But for kids who are interested in “different” stuff, be it Japanese anime or cross-stitching, there’s a place for them on the internet. And there are plenty of ways for kids to express themselves (making and sharing an instructional video, for example), which is an essential part of growing up — a study by the University of Montreal found that allowing children to freely explore their intrinsic interests can be helpful in developing autonomy.
Reminder: Unfortunately, bullying can also take place online — and there’s a likelihood of kids being exposed to inappropriate content. Every interaction (online or otherwise), requires parental supervision to ensure that kids stay safe.
Kids are growing up with unlimited access to entertainment
One thing kids can easily tap into is all the fun that comes along with the internet. Games, videos, books — there’s an endless amount of fascinating stuff to look at and share. And there are other perks, too. In an interview with the Globe & Mail, tech expert and author Don Tapscott posited that children born in a digital-first world are “the smartest generation”, in part because online activities often require engaging (rather than passive) screen time.
Reminder: Screen time has always been a debated topic. Though the concerns — everything from shrinking attentions spans to depression — are valid, there’s really no consensus on how much is too much. It’s best to ensure there’s a balance between screen time and other activity. According to Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an average day for healthy kids should be divided according to school, homework time, physical activity, social contact, and sleep.
Parents can sometime be more active on social media than their kids. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and remind ourselves about the potential dangers our kids face while growing up online. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to go into hyper-protective mode. Simply being aware of these potential risks is half the battle. To start fighting the other half, read our guide on how to be involved, but not overbearing, in your kids’ online activity.
Photo Credits: Rawpixel / Shutterstock, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock, BigTunaOnline / Shutterstock