Our kids spend more time online texting, posting and tweeting than we will ever know. And I admit this worries me, but I may be over-reacting. Recent studies suggest time interacting online may help kids be more empathetic in real life and even strengthen bonds between friends. And studies suggest that shy kids may learn to be more outgoing and less anxious by spending time connecting with friends online.
According to journalist Shirley Wang on WSJ.com, a new study presented at the annual American Psychological Association conference says that participants:
Expressed a significant amount of empathy online, and that the more time college students spent on Facebook, the more empathy they expressed online and in real life.
What about all that online bullying we hear about? Unfortunately cyber-bullying still goes on, but in-person bullying is more common. In a study of teenagers, Dr. Michele Ybarra, president of nonprofit research group Internet Solutions for Kids Inc., surveyed 3,777 teens about bullying. According to Wang's article on WSJ.com:
• 45% reported some bullying in the past year
• nearly 40% said it had occurred in person
• fewer than 20% said it had occurred—solely or in addition to other bullying methods—online, by phone or by text messaging
• 2/3 of kids who say they are bullied online say they don't find it upsetting
This is all good news, but for the sake of civility I will continue my "no texting at the dinner table" policy. And when I tell my kids "lights out" at bedtime, I will still remind them to turn off their phones.
Of course, I could just take away the smartphones and laptops until they are in college, but that has two negative results in my opinion. First, I don't want to remove the many benefits of smartphone connectivity–coordinating carpool times with kids via texting, or my kids connecting with school friends via texting to get homework help, or just the simple act of texting an "xoxo" to my kids when they are having a tough day. Also, I think learning to use online time appropriately happens when the parents are modeling good behavior online too. If I wait until college to provide a smartphone or WiFi for laptops, we will never have those family conversations about what works and doesn't work online.
According to KJ Dell Antonia t Slate.com, just like us, kids are learning how not to let online time rule our lives:
Their online experiences may not be that different than ours, and many adults are finding that after a few years of smartphone and laptop connectivity, we've made it work within our lives instead of allowing it to take over.
I always thought un-plugging would improve vacations, but I got a kick out of New York Times' writer Bruce Feller's mission to stay plugged in during vacations for the sake of improving the fun vibe by watching online travel videos with his kids, learning how to gussy up grilled fish online, and even track sea turtles online. According to his article on NYTimes.com
One surprising way that being plugged in improved our vacations was using newfangled resources to solve oldfangled problems. Bugs, for one. I used the Internet to find a home remedy for the slugs eating my begonias (broken eggshells). My sister-in-law snapped a photo of the alarming bug bite on her 10-month-old and sent it along to our other sister who’s a pediatrician. (No Lyme disease!) Others did the same thing with burns and poison ivy.
So I guess, my mantra about my raising online savvy kids is: "have a little faith." Kids will make mistakes, just like we do. Together we will sort it out. At least I'm around and available for those all important in-person conversations.
For more information on this topic, check out:
- Wang's article Could Those Hours Online Be Making Kids Nicer?
- Antonia's article More time online can pay off in easier friendships for shy kids
- Feller's article This Life - A Plugged-in Summer
~ Chris Olson
Writer and illustrator
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