In the category of A Knack for Stating the Obvious, we have today a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics that advises us that social media can have deleterious effects on our kids.
To which I can only sputter: No kidding.
The AAP report (read the whole thing here: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;127/4/800)
states that: "...it is important that parents become aware of the nature of social media sites, given that not all of them are healthy environments for children and adolescents."
Any parent who has a child involved in social media in any way -- Facebook, Twitter, AIM, texting, Formspring, etc.) needs to have the talk about values and guidelines for use, as well as consequences for misuse.
Like everything else to do with technology, these sites magnify the good and bad of human nature. With kids, their lack of experience and perspective acts as further intensifier. Little misunderstandings become hurt feelings become outright combat. Anonymity becomes an excuse for any ugly behaviour.
What kids fail to realize is that what might feel like private exchanges are really public bulletin boards with almost perpetual life. Stupid behaviour, captured in filthy language and explicit or even just misguided pictures, can find it's way into future searches by college admissions officers and employers, potential spouses and in-laws.
What parents may fail to realize is the infinite potential for mischief that these sites afford. For example-- Formspring (http://www.formspring.me/) is a site that allows kids to establish a bulletin board where anonymous posters get to ask any question that they like. Two guesses as to what kind of questions get posed. And what kind of comments follow on. It's excruciating.
Once guidelines for use and consequences for misuse are established, it's up to parents to monitor consistently. Yes, it's tedious and time-consuming. But it gives you a chance to get to know your kids friends (or "friends") as they are or as they wish to present themselves-- very enlightening. And it's really the only way to help your kids navigate this brave new world.
Some parents may prefer to simply not allow their kids access to social medial sites. Which is one way to protect them, but I think it has several potential drawbacks. The first is the lost opportunity to "inoculate" them-- the help you can provide in teaching them how to act, speak and respond in in the social media world. STEP's Positive Discipline approach prefers to guide kids to making good choices-- training wheels, if you will, for the day when they're on their own.
The bigger drawback may simply be that they decide to gain access without your knowledge (easy enough if they have any personal devices or simply access to a Wi-Fi connected computer) and set up under an alias.
Facebook doesn't require any ID for it's supposed age requirement of 13, and lots of kids establish a fake ID and tell their friends about it. Et voila, you now have no idea of what they may be doing-- or having done to them-- online.
Not only that, your kids' peers can set up fake sites about them and post just about anything they damn well please to embarrass and harass. If you're not online, you won't know about it.
ABC Family recently aired a movie called "Cyberbully" which presented a thoughtful and fairly accurate fictionalization of how a nice kid with a nice mom and nice friends can wind up ostracized and distraught when a few fairly innocuous events twist out of control, thanks to the magnifier effect of social media.
Thankfully there are lots of good resources for parents who want to get a little closer to the issue.
Just two to get started are: the brilliant danah boyd (no capitals in her name) a PhD and researcher for Microsoft and Harvard. You can find her blog here: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/. A recent post discusses "sexting" among teenagers and it's impact on the tech industry.
Florida Atlantic University is home to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Find the home page here: http://www.cyberbullying.us/index.php. I met Dr, Sameer Hinduja earlier this year at a conference on this topic; his background is criminal justice. The CRC is dedicated to reducing online victimization and it's real-world costs.
I'd love to know how you are responding to these issues in your home. Please take a moment to drop a line in the comment section, below.