Teens and Social Media: A Force for Good
I sit here, in front of the computer, for hours. I am writing, I am checking Twitter, I am pondering the large social issues (such as Lady Gaga's tortured relationship with Madonna), and sometimes I play FreeRice.
The Internet and social media are forces for good in my life, splintered, distracted forces, but positive ones nonetheless. But then I think about social media and my kids and I get all worried. Texting, Facebook, the Internet are all threats to their ability to concentrate, to maintain healthy relationships, and to their safety. It is so worrisome. Whenever the topic comes up amongst parents (which is often), you can see the anxiety level start to swell. Which is why it was such a relief to hear about how the Internet is a positive force in the life of today's family.
At a recent panel on the Social Media family, experts talked about how social media is a force for good, not evil, and we old fogies better get used to it.
I am just starting down the path of Facebook and teen texting so it was a relief to hear Alyson Schafer, parenting expert and author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, talk about how social media has deepened her relationships with her teen daughters and made her daughters more productive, friendly and all-around better people.
Well, she didn't say that exactly. But almost. Alyson is a parenting expert who I trust so when she says that technology can be good for teens, I listen.
She said that relationships online are deep and vital, and just because we adults get caught up in the typos and quick response times does not mean they are superficial. Teens can carry on deep and intimate conversations through texting and instant messaging. Thanks to Skype, their world gets larger and not smaller because they can maintain relationships with friends who are near and far.
She feels like she knows more and is a bigger part of her girls' lives because they send little updates during the day. When they walk in the door she already knows their mood, whether they did well on a paper and the little things that make up a teen's day. This avoids the weighted: 'How was your day?' question when they walk in.
Alyson says she does not impose screen time limits for two reasons. Firstly, she doesn't know what she would tell them to turn off: their phones? Or their computers where they are doing research or Skyping with someone while working on a project? Secondly, it is up to the kid to learn time management. If they can't handle their school projects and their computers then it is their problem. They need to learn eventually.
Alyson doesn't have gamers as I do, but I appreciated the shift in thinking that she was presenting. When I brought up the idea that maybe social media adds a dimension to our kids' lives I was surprised by the reaction of other (non-tech) parents. They had a visceral reaction against Facebook, Twitter and texting without considering the value they might add.
Maybe we parents need to stop thinking about technology as a danger and start looking at how much it has added to our lives and our kids' lives. When we accept that social media has both costs and benefits we will be able to better handle whatever comes next. Because something is coming and our teens are much better prepared than we are.
I know this is a topic that I will be returning to often as my kids get older and start their life online. What do you think? Do think social media (Facebook, Skype, texting etc.) can be a good thing for teens?
Want more? Can you believe that the Olympics were a year ago? I was writing about what kids can learn from the big event.