Many people (including myself) believe that social media is an excellent vehicle to connect with people in a way that would be impossible without it. I firmly believe that both non-profits and businesses who ignore it will be left out in the cold. Time and time again I have listed ways how it has helped our cause. So then if kids are performing charitable acts and forming non-profits, then it clearly follows that they too should embrace social media, right? Well I would say maybe so, but not without caution.
The people on the other side of the social media fence believe it’s just another way for nerds to not meet up face-to-face, that is discourages personal interaction and if left unchecked we will soon not be able to distinguish the virtual world from the real one. I am happy I am not in that camp. But I’m sure their argument would be that kids should be outside playing, interacting with each other, reading, imagining — there are far more activities to list that outweigh the benefits of being on a computer.
For me the answer is not cut and dried because I see valid points from both sides. However, I do think that there is much benefit to be had by having kids be social in any way they can. Social interaction is by far the most important factor in becoming successful in life. That is not to say that things like education are unimportant. Obviously that is critical as well. But to be a well rounded individual and to get the most out of life it is difficult to accomplish this if you are social outcast even if you have a doctorate degree.
Kids Are Heroes was established in 2008 and since then we have had four major events where we have invited children from the web site to come together to celebrate what they do. When kids started traveling from out of town, we thought it would be nice to have an after-party to thank them for coming. We quickly discovered that the kids bonded naturally even though they had just met and we now make a point of it to continue this tradition each time we get them together. These are the leaders of tomorrow and leaders are successful because of their strong networks. So why not help them build it now? Personal interaction is the ultimate goal and the best vehicle for them to bond with each other — no question.
Sadly we have had several heroes indicate to us their desire to come to these events but they could not as they could ill afford the travel expenses. Hopefully in the future we will be able to assist with that, but in the mean time what can they do? Having recognized the need, we decided to create a chat room just for the heroes on our site so they can interact whenever they want from anywhere on the planet. We have also provided a way for them to exchange Twitter, Facebook, Skype and all other forms of electronic interaction accounts they might have so that they can communicate in whatever way suits them best. We are just getting it off the ground but for those who are taking advantage they are really enjoying themselves. My daughter MaryMargaret was Skypeing with Wesley from Canada last night and must have chatted for over an hour. The new challenges I now face are teaching her basic manners, like when you have a video phone call on Skype you are not to interact with your other friends on Chat at the same time unless the other person is also participating.
What About Safety?
So many parents are scared to death of getting their kids involved in things like this. We hear about children meeting new “friends” on the internet and later becoming abducted by them. My take on that is to just be careful. We have no internet connection in my daughter’s room. When she is on the computer she is either within earshot in the living room or in the kitchen where all the activity is. Many times she has introduced us to her Skype friends to us and we have even met her friends’ parents that way. I told MaryMargaret that I would give her a Facebook account and not only would I friend her, but I would have access to the account whenever I wanted to. She had absolutely no problem with that, as she has nothing to hide. (She is 12 years old now — we’ll see how long that attitude holds up. ) If someone tries to friend her and she doesn’t know them, she asks me if it’s OK as it is possible they are one of my contacts. For the most part I only want her Facebook friends to be of a similar age, be someone that she already knows and/or a hero on our web site. Sometimes others can post things on an adult friend’s wall that may not be appropriate for young eyes and ears. For Twitter we protect her account so that a follower must request to see her tweets. If it turns out she does see something inappropriate, she just blocks the person, unfriends them, closes the web page, or takes whatever other action necessary to get rid of it as she has no interest in it.
All in all I think this social media is great for kids as long as they still get out and interact with their friends in real time. MaryMargaret has just been unleashed into Facebook and Skype and she does spend a good deal of time on it right now but I trust as the novelty wears off she will still use it but spend a more reasonable amount of time there. If not we will step in to help make a better balance.
I bet there are all kinds of thoughts out there on this subject. I’d love to hear yours in the comments.