It’s not breaking news that some people think the internet is no place for a kid 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 now and then.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey (released May 2018), 45 percent of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis — but parents of those teens face scrutiny for letting their kids spend time on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. Plus, the exact “best age” a kid should have their first social media account still remains murky — and 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.
Still, some experts say it can be beneficial to introduce social media to your child, albeit slowly and appropriately. Here’s why.
1. Group inclusion
Social media makes sense in the world of teen socialization (and teen angst). Dr. Barbara Winter, a Florida-based psychologist with over 20 years of experience, explains, “Social media allows teenagers to be part of a group, which is a cornerstone to self-esteem.” And according to a 2014 study published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, teen social media use “provides new contexts for reflecting upon and trying out new identities, for learning and attempting new social skills and for establishing affiliations.”
2. Online learning
This might make you feel a little less guilty as the parent of an Instagrammer: 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… 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.”
3. Access to news
Good luck getting your teen to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. But that doesn’t mean they have to be out of the loop of world news. “Teens often favor social media for news and happenings in the world rather than looking at traditional news sources,” Winter explains. According to research by Common Sense Media in 2017, 47 percent of kids get their news from Facebook, while 41 percent of tweens get their news from YouTube. Of course, talk to your teen about the fact that social media sites are not news sites and explain that they should always follow suggested “news” links on social sites to their original (journalistic, fact-checked) source.
4. Freedom of expression
As parents, we also use social media for this reason: to share our thoughts and feelings in our own corner of the internet. Likewise, says 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 your child is ready to dip their toes into the waters of online creative expression, Seberson suggests going old-school first. “Tumblr is an old platform that 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.”
5. Exposure to the real world
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 from 2009 published in Computers in Human Behavior also suggests that among the college age group, using social media regularly can make you more open-minded and open to new experiences.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2014.