Social Media: The Parent Gap and Engagement Trap

Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer multiple daily opportunities for connecting with friends, classmates, and people with shared interests. During the last 5 years, the number of pre-adolescents and adolescents using such sites has increased dramatically. According to a recent poll, 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day.Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging.Thus, a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.

Because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, children and adolescents are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media. Recent research indicates that there are frequent online expressions of offline behaviors, such as bullying, clique-forming, and sexual experimentation, that have introduced problems such as cyberbullying, privacy issues, and “sexting.” Other problems that merit awareness include Internet addiction and concurrent sleep deprivation.

Many parents today use technology incredibly well and feel comfortable and capable with the programs and online venues that their children and adolescents are using. Nevertheless, some parents may find it difficult to relate to their digitally savvy youngsters online for several reasons. Such parents may lack a basic understanding of these new forms of socialization, which are integral to their children’s lives.They frequently do not have the technical abilities or time needed to keep pace with their children in the ever-changing Internet landscape. In addition, these parents often lack a basic understanding that kids’ online lives are an extension of their offline lives. The end result is often a knowledge and technical skill gap between parents and youth, which creates a disconnect in how these parents and youth participate in the online world together.

When Internet users visit various Web sites, they can leave behind evidence of which sites they have visited. This collective, ongoing record of one’s Web activity is called the “digital footprint.” One of the biggest threats to young people on social media sites is to their digital footprint and future reputations. Pre-adolescents and adolescents who lack an awareness of privacy issues often post inappropriate messages, pictures, and videos without understanding that “what goes online stays online.” As a result, future jobs and college acceptance may be put into jeopardy by inexperienced and rash clicks of the mouse. Indiscriminate internet activity also can make children and teenagers easier for marketers and fraudsters to target.

It is very important that parents access critical information on the full present and future impact of web use, and the extent to which their child’s usage makes him/her  vulnerable while interacting online. Not only must parents monitor web use and guide their child’s digital footprint, but they must also model appropriate web use for their impressionable youngsters. Identity is closely intertwined within the  digital landscape, and we must ensure that their disclosures aren’t misleading nor too personal. Encourage children to identify future life and career goals, and then help them understand that today’s choices can be revisited tomorrow.

In order to prevent many negative, life-threatening or unsafe activity, parents can build capacity to manage navigating the digital highway without getting into trouble or unwittingly witness their child head into a brick wall. Stay within the established lines-the boundaries, and recognize the signs when  taking the off-ramp is advisable.  Understanding the rules of the roads enables parents to travel safely while they demonstrate web etiquette for their children to emulate. Teach parents to be mindful of the internet and its impact on their children’s lives-present and future.




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