The Pope just called the internet a gift from God. I’m not making that up. Apparently, there are parents who think otherwise.
I was poking around on Quibly yesterday, a question and answer site for parents that is actually much more than that, and came across a question that really got me thinking. It wasn’t the question so much as it was one of the answers.
One interesting thing about Quibly is that anyone can ask a question, either using his real name or anonymously, and the questions are open to be answered by either another parent or an “expert” – someone vetted by Quibly as having considerable domain expertise.
The question asked in this case was:
Do social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have a positive effect on the children’s future?
A lot of the content on Quibly is focused on kids and technology, so not surprisingly social media, often including Facebook and Twitter, comes to the fore often. The answer that gave me pause came from a parent, and was as follows:
Absolutely no positive effect whatsoever. If anything they are detrimental, when children (or young adults for that matter) see them as a popularity contest and just a new way of looking at themselves.
It is important to remember that Facebook and Twitter are free services because the users are the product. These sites use algorithms to bombard users with what “they” believe the user wants to see, so if you want your child to be “pigeon-holed” and directed into a narrow channel of development, then this is probably for you.
It was surprising, to me at least, to see the answer above given what I consider the positive aspects of social media. I weighed in with the following:
I’d like to respectfully disagree with [the above]. Of course, any medium can have a harmful effect on a teen if used inappropriately or if the minor is exposed to the wrong type of content, contact or opinion.
A 14 – 17 year old who is of sufficient maturity (I’ll leave this part up to the parents) can get a lot out of either platform. If your (real) friends and family are on Facebook, it can be a great place to connect and share. Yes, the advertisers on Facebook can be aggressive but with the appropriate privacy settings, you don’t need to be bombarded by anything.
I disagree entirely with the above characterization of Twitter. Users rarely see ads, and the positives of the platform are immense, including following and hearing real time from experts in every conceivable field, access to the best real time news and current events platform there is and the ability to do research on what people are talking about right now.
Finally, if you tell a teen with a certain type of personality that she absolutely is forbidden from doing something interesting and legal that hundreds of million of others are doing, she is going to find a way to do it. It’s possible for parents to guide appropriate privacy and behavior.
I thought I’d add a couple more points here to the ones outlined above.
Self-discovery – Your child or teen is going to grow up, and she is probably not going to end up being exactly who you thought she would be. If you are a parent like me, you want “who she is” to include being happy. In my opinion and in this day and age, discovering what she likes and wants to spend time on requires exploring many different mediums, including the internet and social media.
The ability to communicate with friends – Imagine telling your daughter that she can communicate with friends after school, but only if she does it in sign language. I know that’s a ridiculous comparison, and I don’t recommend giving in to the, “but all my friends are doing it” argument, but at a certain maturity level, if all her friends are using Facebook to connect, it’s OK for her to do so as well. It’s tough to argue with the communication medium that another generation chooses.
Creativity – If your daughter is into photography or drawing cartoons or writing poetry, chances are she is going to want to share her work with friends. She is more likely to do that on Facebook than by taking her notebook or album to school. That creativity should be encouraged, not forbidden.
Building a personal brand – People are going to Google your daughter – everyone from possible boyfriends to future employers. Allowing her to responsibly use social media will allow her to build a positive personal brand. If someone asked her, “Who are you?”, no doubt she would answer in a way that casts her in a positive light. Someone using the internet looking for the same answer should get it.
I understand that every social network has risks and negative factors in addition to those listen above. If you’ve decided that your teen is mature enough to use social media, you can help your teen avoid the bad elements and take advantage of the positives that social media has to offer.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.