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Can Social Networking Sites Help Kids Become Successful Adults?

Mar 24, 2008
Some parents believe social networking sites can help kids become successful adults. These actual or perceived benefits of social networking sites are the recent topic of a study that asked parents: how important are social networking sites to your kids?

In this order, here are the areas that topped the list of reasons why parents believe online social networking is important:

1. Improve reading/writing skills
2. Learn to deal w/ difficult situations/resolve conflicts
3. Learn to better express themselves clearly/effectively
4. Learn to better express themselves creatively
5. Learn better social skills
6. Find children who are like them
7. Meet new/different kinds of children

But there is a gap between why parents swing their vote to the positive side of online social networking and the reasons schools are saying yes to the same online behaviors. Here are the list toppers from educators:

1. Meet new/different kinds students
2. Learn better express themselves creatively
3. Be able to develop global relationships
4. Find more students who are like them
5. Learn about global events
6. Learn work together on academic problems
7. Become more engaged in school

Looking at the above list provided by educators, developing global relationships shows that some educators may be out of touch with the dangers of online social networking sites. In order to keep kids safe on these types of sites, kids must keep their profiles set to private. In order to build global relationships you have to have your profile set so that anyone can view it and ask to be your friend or buddy. To suggest this is a good idea is irresponsible, at best.

When the kids, ages 9-17, were surveyed, the reasons why they visit social networking sites revealed that e-mail, Chat or IM, online polls /surveys, playing online multiplayer games, adding "friends", and reading or updating profiles are what gets kids online and keeps them there. Although they may be learning reading and writing skills, the lack of face to face, outdoor activities that teach kids to interact in a non-virtual way is being eaten up by the black hole of online social networking.

In terms of our kids learning to handle conflict and resolve issues effectively, I'm not sure online is a great way for them to be doing so. How do we know they are handling it right anyway. You can turn it off and walk away. With kids spending so much time online, an average of 11 hours a week, I can't see how they are learning better social skills. Maybe they are learning to express themselves more creatively online. They get to design their own profile page, post songs that seem to mirror the mood of the week, and post pictures they Photoshop into some pretty cool looking art-like pieces.

I do believe, however, that some parents and educators are using the Internet, or social networking sites, to do their job for them. They want to believe that their kids are learning about global events, expressing themselves more clearly, becoming more engaged in school, or solving academic problems online. But if you look at why kids go online, what kids actually spend their time doing online, it doesn't line up with the grand vision of parents and educators.

The most important things a parent or educator can do is be sure their kids are successfully using the Internet for the wonderful tools it offers in the area of education. It is great that kids have a medium we never had as kids to connect with their friends. It is essential in today's world. But it is also important for adults not to be blind to the facts and understand for kids, online social networking is not education, it is not to take the place of teaching our kids ourselves how to handle conflicts, communicate or about global events.

We, as parents, still have a big role to play there. We still need to make the time to have dinner or go out for a Jamba Juice together, talk about, as my daughter and I do, the highs and lows of the day and help them with our pearls of wisdom resolves things with guidance and love. We still need to talk to them about global issues, teach them about different cultures, people and even religions, beliefs or traditions.

Online social networking, just like at school, has clicks and mean girls and tough guys and nerds and jocks. It is social and it is networking. Think of it as an online get-together, a virtual meeting place for kids that is not so different from a time
It is a great tool, and fun and a wonderful thing for kids if they know how to stay safe and parents take the time to occasionally monitor the going's on. But it isn't you and it isn't getting out and getting some air or exercise and it isn't supposed to be doing the job of an educator.

To help kids become successful adults, let's keep social networking, and the good the bad and the ugly of it, in perspective and not allow it to become the end all, be all for our kids.
About the Author
Greg Writer is the Founder/CEO of Children's Educational Network, a software company dedicated to empowering parents with tools and information to keep kids safe online. You can get free parental control software at their web site http://www.childrenseducationalnetwork.com
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