I have been hanging out with a lot of kids lately. It’s my age, it seems. The tables have turned and there are no longer get-togethers with friends and family in which small offspring are not involved. I have been watching them, in their new lives, as my parents and their parents before must have also, with fascination. Marveling at how different the realities of their childhood will be from my own. A case in point, my parents didn’t own a computer until my later years of elementary school and Duck Hunt was the biggest, most technologically advanced thing to happen in my living room!
Children of the current generation are already on Facebook just days, sometimes minutes (serious social media dedication on their parents’ part) after birth. They comb through playlists searching episodes of Dora the Explorer from their strollers in the grocery store. They sit tucked in bed curled up with an iPad alphabet game instead of a book. This is reality and, understandably, new parents are wondering: is this ok?
In chatting with friends and in researching more scholarly debates, schools of thought on the subject of social media and kids are as varying as Twitter handles. Some believe that children should be shielded from social media, and media overall, for as long as possible. They argue that social networks fail to really educate kids about the real world, substituting video games for books, cyber chats for community or human interaction and promoting mindless consumerism over serious learning.
Others feel that media-savvy kids are genuinely unavoidable and necessary. They feel that it is a modern parent’s responsibility to allow their children to be on social networks, because children should learn about the world and technology – and media and the worldwide web are highly effective and realistic ways of doing so.
Of course in any debate there are many sides. I do appreciate them all and not being a parent myself, I have yet to come to any truly definitive social media child rearing intentions. However, having invested a career in marketing and social media communication, I appreciate and recognize the fact that it is only going to play more of a role, not less, in the future of our society. This being the case, perhaps efforts to keep children from it might be fruitless?
I was most surprised by the concerns about “reality” (and social media’s detachment from it) that came up in some of the perspectives I uncovered on this topic. I recognize that video games and TV are not reality, and that children should be taught the difference. But online social interactions with other individuals, be they Facebook comments, YouTube responses, or general emails, are very much real. Rather than shy away from social media, for fear of it not being a meaningful interaction, shouldn’t children be encouraged to recognize that what they put out into cyberspace is in fact received by other people in the real world? Most importantly, they should be taught that there can be both positive and negative repercussions when interacting via online forms of communication, which can mirror those of speaking face to face.
Like any other lessons in life, the next generation will need to be taught the values and risks of social interaction online. How to be safe. How to communicate, yet at the same time harbor discretion for personal protection and privacy. How to embrace it, as an enjoyable and positive element of their social development, a forum for creativity and expression. Most importantly, we should help our children understand that they can all hurt, anger, influence and inspire with the messages they send and persona they project online.
At times kids can surprise us, in their ability to digest information and entertainment with an exceptional level of candid maturity. They have the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, right from wrong. This is made evident through one of my subscribed YouTube shows, “Kids React to Online Videos”. Their responses are not only hilarious, but also showcase how easily they recognize non-sensical entertainment for just what it is.
Undoubtably there are media dangers: teens posting unmonitored material, lost cognitive skills through video game comas, and it is true that these are unique to our generation as parents. However, risks in child rearing are not new. My grandmother, in the mid-fifties, used to let her children out for the day into the once suburban woodlands of Mississauga and just hoped that they would show up for dinner. That must have been a bit concerning too!
In summary, a child can be safeguarded for only so long. After all, documentation of their formative years no longer live in dusty basement albums, but rather on their parents’ Macs or, more likely, Mum or Dad or even Grandma’s social media page. What hope do they really have of avoidance? So for now, I aspire to offer my future children opportunity, confidence and wisdom in all aspects of their life. With some diligence, if such principals are applied to a strong and dedicated Social Media upbringing, perhaps my kids might just blog and tweet for the better!