It's not a newsflash that some people think the internet is no place for children to hang out. There are tons of arguments against it (it keeps kids from engaging with others off-screen and exposes them to inappropriate content, among other things), but it turns out there are actually some good reasons to let your kids indulge in a little social media.
In 2015, it was reported that 92 percent of teens go online daily — but parents of those teens still faced the scrutiny of letting their offspring lurk around on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And since technology is fairly new to our parenting generation, the exact age that a kid should have their own social media account still remains murky.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act makes it illegal for commercial websites and apps to offer accounts to children under 13 without parental consent, but some experts say it can be beneficial to introduce social media to your child slowly and appropriately. Here's why.
As simple as it is, it makes sense in the world of teen socialization (and teen angst). Dr. Barbara Winter, a Florida psychologist with over 20 years of experience, says, “Social media allows teenagers to be part of a group, which is a cornerstone to self-esteem.” And according to 2011 research from the Pediatrics journal, teen social media use could benefit adolescents by expanding their view of self, community and the world.
This might make you feel a little less guilty when you consider that technology counts as one of our cultural languages. “Social media is a great tool for learning, especially for kids that are almost glued to their computers,” Katya Seberson, speed-reading and memory teacher at ExecutiveMind, says. “It bridges the gap between the fictional world of video games (Minecraft and Warcraft) and the real world. Social media is in between the two. It talks about real world events, but it's happening in a digital form.”
Good luck getting your teen to read The Wall Street Journal or watch CNN just yet. “Teens often favor social media for news and happenings in the world rather than looking at traditional news sources,” Dr. Winter explains.
As parents, we use Facebook for exactly the same reason — to share our thoughts and feelings in our own private corner of the internet. Likewise, says Dr. Winter, social media allows teens to express their individuality through stories, pictures and quotes, which can be beneficial to emotional, sexual and spiritual health.
If you’re ready to only dip your toes into the waters of online creative expression, Seberson suggests easing into it by setting up a Tumblr account first. “Tumblr is an old platform which allows artistic minds to express themselves,” she says. “I introduce kids to bookfessions.tumblr.com, and they get hooked. They start following artists they love and share their own poetry, drawings — even essays.”
Yes, of course we all want to keep our little baby chicks in the nest for as long as we can, but keeping kids sheltered for too long will inevitably set them up to fail. Seberson encourages parents to use online education hand in hand with real-world exposure to produce a lasting impact. “I hate to see kids grow up in a safe bubble that bursts when they go to college,” she says. Research among the college age group also suggests that using social media regularly can make you more open-minded and open to new experiences.
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Originally published June 2014. Updated February 2017.
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