Social Media: Is it for Kids?

Posted by Gabe on November 30, 2010 under Kids are Heroes, Social Media | 15 Comments to Read

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.

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Comments

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  • Metamother said,

    Thank you for expressing your thoughts on our children’s use and safety on the internet. I am also right on that fence, thinking social media is now a source nonprofits and businesses cannot ignore, but that there is enough room for abuse and misuse that we need to be extremely careful what we allow our children to get into. I actually lean more toward the “12 year olds should not be on Facebook” camp for very particular reasons, although paying attention to where they access the internet, etc., is a smart move if you choose to allow them that privilege. Kids do need to “get out there” and interact – and “education” is not just sitting in a classroom and aiming towards a certain score on a standardized test. Education is way broader than that, and involves social interaction on a very deep level. The internet can broaden our children’s horizons, and it can also circumscribe them if we are not careful. Good article. Thank you.

  • Ashley McAuslen said,

    First off, loved the article. Being a social media addict for over 6 years now, I’ve seen social media outlets like FB and Twitter evolve into the giants they are today.

    I believe that it is important to teach children how to use these outlets in the right way and in a safe manner. I may be jumping to conclusions here but I believe that social media is here to stay. The earlier we can educate kids (and even parents) that it can and should be used to compliment our everyday lives, the better.

    Essentially I think it should come down to reminding everyone of the original intent of social media; to get connected and stay connected with people! Also when it comes to businesses, it’s free marketing! It’s a shame that all the negative connotations come with social media sites because there is so much good we can do with these outlets!

    -Ashley

  • Gabe said,

    Meta – I love your point about education. You are so right. I think that different parents will approach social media for their kids in different ways and no one has the authority to say they are wrong or right.

    Ashley – I don’t think you are jumping to conclusions. Social media is definitely here to stay. And just like anything else is is up to the parents to guide and teach their children.

    I also believe that the negative rap that social media sites have will wane as they become more and more popular and people actually learn what they have to offer.

  • Bruce Hoff said,

    I am in the process of developing a program “Internet Safety For Kids” about this same issue. The single most important factor in child safety “Parents that parent”. I have shifted gears to directing the program for parents and holding the children’s interest with handouts. Parents have got to get off their back sides and get involved in their children’s lives. Spend an hour a week (or even a month) volunteering at their school. Teach them the morals and morays our parents once taught us. Then listen to them, so they will tell you before they get into trouble. That’s right they will tell you if you LISTEN. Great article!

  • Gabe said,

    Thanks Bruce,
    I think we see eye to eye about parents being the ones that should teach/lead their kids. Being of a technical nature I have always felt very much at ease around computers and am very much involved in my daughter’s ‘technical evolution’. What would you suggest for parents who don’t know how to turn on a computer?

  • Bob said,

    Great post Gabe – and what a fantastic question!
    I have a 12 year old who, like your 12 year old is just being introduced to the world of social media.

    Ashley hit the nail on the head with her statement, “Essentially I think it should come down to reminding everyone of the original intent of social media; to get connected and stay connected with people”

    Wes (our son) is finding great value connecting with fellow heroes he met this past summer at Kids are Heroes Day.
    He was also just invited to a “tweetup” with some of Canada’s top digital influencers. They are now following each other on Twitter and cultivating connections and relationships built in real-time.

    The value of social media (and correct me if I’m wrong… fairly new to this as well) is in building strong networks both online and offline by leveraging tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others.

    Because he is so young, like you, we’ve taken precautions with Wes’s online presence and activities. Because of his charitable work – he’s received “friend requests” from many kids and adults alike – people we don’t necessarily know. Most of these people I’m sure are all good, well meaning people, but if we don;t know them – he doesn’t add them. Instead, we’ve helped him create a ‘community page” on Facebook where he (and we) can post news and updates as it relates to his growing charitable work. We direct any friend requests to his community page, thus protecting his personal profile.

    There absolutely has to be a line – and we as parents have to be diligent and work overtime with the goal of protecting our kids while at the same time allowing them to get an education that, as his teacher has said and has been mentioned here, you can’t get in school.

  • Gabe said,

    Bob,

    You make a number of great points. How you are handling Wesley’s accounts is pretty much the same way we handle MaryMargaret’s. The Kids Are Heroes fan page is there for everyone as is our @KidsAreHeroes twitter account. This is also what we would recommend for other parents of heroes. Now when they start to get older, say 15, 16 or 17 then it becomes a different animal. Lucky for us we have a few years to figure out what to do then. :)

  • Bruce Hoff said,

    Gabe,
    Actually several child safety networks have asked that I make the presentation available to them once it is completed. My presentation is scheduled for March 2011 at a local school and several schools have also expressed interest. Hopefully, I can do a good presentation that can be used by others. I too am a professional and the challenge is to bring it to a level that anyone can understand. Doing professional level presentations, though difficult, were much easier to write, produce and direct. There are several great documents available at http://edpubs.ed.gov. Check out ED005021P & ED005022P.

  • Gabe said,

    Thanks for that info Bruce and good luck on your presentation!

  • Valerie Ormond said,

    Dear Gabe,
    Excellent topic, and you hit the nail on the head: parenting. Yes, there are dangers out there, but it is somewhat naive for adults to believe that children will not experiment with the communication tools everyone else is using today. Better for kids to learn with the guiding hand than to find what’s out there on their own.
    BREAK BREAK On a separate topic, can you please share with me how to download your “Kids Are Heroes” button for my web site? Right now I just have a boring link. Thanks, and appreciate all you are doing!

  • Gabe said,

    Hi Valerie,
    I appreciate the kind words. And yes, there is a post that both explains how to do what you are trying to do and offers the buttons. The link is at the top of this page and inside the main banner: ‘spread the word’. The link is http://www.justgabe.com/blog-for-kah/

  • Mommylebron said,

    Hi, Gabe! I think this has to be approached like every other parenting issue. First and foremost parents need to be educated and involved. In my area many community organizations offer training on computer use, if you don’t know how to use one you need to learn because your kids will. Additionally, how and when children are introduced to social networks depends on them. For instance, my 13 year old just got his Facebook in July (which I monitor and have access to) but my 9 year old has a blog and will be getting a Twitter account to help facilitate her upcoming Hero work. My 11 year old has no interest in social media…yet and that’s ok! I teach them about it, show them how I utilize my accounts and really emphasize that we are dealing with REAL people. (To avoid that complacency that some people develop that makes them think its ok to harass people online).

  • Gabe said,

    I like your perspectives, especially the one about your 9-year-old who is doing ‘hero work’. :) What will be interesting is watching how social media develops as it relates to both adults and children.

  • Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth said,

    I definitely think the age-n-stage discussion comes into play here, Gabe, and love that you’re tossing this into the social media mix, esp with all of the COPPA compliant/under 13 issues that need addressed (from safety and credibility to datamining/opportunistic issues)

    Wanted to toss in a huge plug for two VERY helpful resources ConnectSafely.org and @AnneCollier’s NetFamilyNews.org which really have helped me navigate some of these waters myself, for even as a ‘media literacy’ gal, I find when I work with kids/parents of diff age groups I find myself pie-eyed at some of the lack of knowledge on basic ‘what to know before they go’ stuff…(esp given the popularity of GPS location/vid feeds etc)

    So here’s a great primer on their forum:
    http://www.connectsafely.org/safety-tips-and-advice.html

    p.s. I’ll add that as the web gets more sophisticated w/one click social ‘shares’ it makes sense to actually READ the TOS on the sites as far as privacy practices/content ownership too.

  • Gabe said,

    Wow! Thanks for all that great information Amy. I’ll definitely checkout those sites you mentioned. Watched a CNBC program about Facebook last night that parents should definitely see.Which reminds me to recheck MaryMargaret’s privacy settings!!