It seems like every day there's another story about kids sexting, cyberbullying, or suffering from acute FOMO (fear of missing out). Yes, the risks of social media are real. But there's a lot about the way kids use and think about apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Kik Messenger and even YouTube that we don't understand. With millions of kids using these programs and only a fraction misusing them, they can't be all bad, right?
New research is shedding light on the good things that can happen when kids connect, share, and learn online. As a parent, you can help nurture the positive aspects by accepting how important social media is for kids and helping them find ways for it to add real value to their lives. For inspiration, here are some of the benefits of your kid being social media-savvy:
It strengthens friendships. Studies, including Common Sense Media's Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives and the Pew Research Center's Teens, Technology and Friendships show that social media helps teens make friends and keep them.
It offers a sense of belonging. A study conducted by Griffith University and the University of Queensland in Australia found that although American teens have fewer friends than their historical counterparts, they are less lonely than teens in past decades. They report feeling less isolated and have actually become more socially adept as well, partly due to an increase in technology use.
It provides genuine support. Online acceptance -- whether a kid is interested in an unusual subject that isn't considered "cool" or is grappling with sexual identity -- can validate a marginalized kid. Suicidal teens can even get immediate access to quality support online. One example occurred on a Minecraft forum on Reddit when an entire online community used voice-conferencing software to talk a teen out of his decision to commit suicide.
It helps them express themselves. The popularity of fan fiction (original stories based on existing material that people write and upload online) proves how strong the desire for self-expression is. Both producers and performers can satisfy this need through social media. Digital technology allows kids to share their work with a wider audience and even collaborate with far-flung partners (an essential 21st-century skill). If they're really serious, social media can provide essential feedback for kids to hone their craft.
It lets them do good. Twitter, Facebook, and other large social networks expose kids to important issues and people from all over the world. Kids realize they have a voice they didn't have before and are doing everything from crowdfunding for people in need to anonymously Tweeting positive thoughts. Check out these sites that help kids do good.
Caroline Knorr is Common Sense Media's parenting editor, and helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. Email Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org.