By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media parenting editor
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, 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 simply 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. According to Common Sense's study Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, 52 percent of all teens who use social media say it's helped their friendships, whereas only 4 percent say it has mainly hurt their friendships; and 29 percent of social network users believe that social networking makes them feel more outgoing (compared to 5 percent who say it makes them feel less so).
- 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. Both producers and performers can satisfy a need for creative self-expression 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.
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