The rate of cultural change in our world is a staggeringly rapid one. Increasingly powerful computers, such as developed throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, are one thing; the rise of the Internet and the global connectivity it fosters is quite another. Today’s kids are growing up in a hyper-connected universe dramatically different even than that of a generation back — and parents of these 21st - century technological wunderkinds, often enough, can barely comprehend the contours of that universe. Social media offers incredible possibilities for today’s kids: the chance to expand awareness, deepen their education, and place themselves on career paths in ways unimaginable a decade or two ago. Those same new horizons, however, are as rife with new challenges and dangers as they are with opportunity. As parents and caregivers, we shouldn’t let such risks obscure the huge potential for positive development that the modern child engages with in the social-media universe.
The Ubiquity of Social Media
It’s important for parents to realize that they can’t shield children entirely from the complexities of social media: Part of the Internet’s nature is its ubiquity and its pervasiveness, and already social media has become a fundamental part of many educational and business systems. To succeed today, a child must be at the very least familiar with these newly emerged platforms and applications, and blocking access to them is a stifling route to go down. Learning how to navigate the Internet, how to set up an online profile, how to search for and use web-based information — these are new standards of operation in the 21st century, and they require cultivation of a new suite of skills.
Better than half of all five-year-olds in the U.S. use a computer or a tablet device on a regular basis — a pretty staggering fact, even to those children of the 1990s who watched the Internet emerge on the global stage. We’ve all seen preteens on the bus or the subway hammering away with lightning thumbs on their smart-phone virtual keypads, engaging in text-message conversations at a speed we could never hope to match. Those are blatant signs of a brand-new generation staking claim to the world: young people for whom YouTube, Wikipedia, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and any number of even more cutting-edge online institutions are second-nature.
For all the lurid stories, there are plenty of websites specifically and wholesomely catered to different age groups. As a parent, taking an active role in monitoring and steering your kids’ online pursuits can pay big dividends by harnessing the best the Internet offers a developing brain while shielding children from more questionable material.
With careful administration — blocking certain sites, encouraging use of age-specific ones, keeping computers in visible and shared spaces of the home, restricting smart-phone usage, and the like — parents can be a part of their children’s entry into and embrace of the new global world of online connectivity and communication. The quaint concept of the pen-pal, which used to be facilitated through snail-mail letters and a lot of patient waiting, finds new and improved evolution online. More than any other stage in our history, kids can learn how to connect with their peers around the world and explore different cultures — which, it’s not reasonable to hope, might help cultivate a new age of open-mindedness and cultural respect the likes of which we could never before conceive of.
Through Facebook and other social-media sites, kids today can maintain colorful and detailed online profiles, which serve as foundations for a virtual world of socializing. Kids can be their own worst enemies when it comes to how they choose to present and conduct themselves in the social-media universe. Whatever your child’s age, it’s never too early to instruct him or her on the importance of discretion and professionalism; an online account filled with incriminating or embarrassing pictures and anecdotes doesn’t tend to endear a person to prospective schools or employers.
Indeed, it can be fun and rewarding to help your child set up an online profile. Even as you’re staying informed, your child is able to explore a rich online universe in a safe, secure, and encouraging environment — a wonderful combination!
A World Rich in Possibility
There are real and frightening dangers online, and you can only directly protect your children from them to a certain degree: You arm them most effectively when you teach them awareness and caution. That said, the world of social media is unbelievably rich in potential for today’s children: They will grow up and actively participate in a universe more interconnected and international than ever before.
Jessica McGarrity contributed this guest post on behalf of Kazaana.com – social networking for kids. Jessica is a freelance writer with a penchant for social media applications. She enjoys researching the social media field and sharing her insights on various blogs.