Every day parents experience the huge attraction of social networks for children, and we are swamped by advice about what to do and what to avoid in this medium. Most of this advice ends by urging us to “bridge the digital generation gap” by familiarizing ourselves with the kids’ virtual world; witnessing the attitudes and values they develop while surfing, and by getting to know their digital friends, habits and preferences…
In the end, though, many of us are left with the question, Why? Why are social networks so attractive to the youngsters?
In her thesis “Adolescents in media planning: segmentation and knowledge of the target”, Elena Izco of the University of Navarra has addressed this question systematically and has come up with five main reasons, each with potential opportunities and risks. Here they are:
Interactivity: Social networking develops many tasks simultaneously. Space and time are no longer barriers. Thanks to 2.0, technology is not an obstacle either, being a platform which amplifies the voice of the minority. Risks: falling into so-called multi-tasking, lack of concentration, poor time management and superficiality.
Sociability: It extends offline relationships in online media. Technological development can expand areas of mutual knowledge (thanks to the ease of sharing digital materials available), facilitating social relationships, and generating new topics of conversation. Risk: the brevity and shallowness of the messages generated.
Intimacy: Creates spaces for intimacy and privacy. Responsible management of these spaces are a great opportunity for growth and personal maturity. In these places they learn to distinguish the opportunity to publish some content and also to think of the impact of their actions. Risk: keeps the management of the social networks closed to the advice of parents so that children get inappropriate advice, preventing them from enjoying even more of the advantages of the social networks.
Personality: Facilitates a child’s appearance in the public sphere and the chance to present a true image of himself. Social networking provides a space in which kids can choose what issues to focus on, which photos to show… sharing new aspects of life with their friends. It is an opportunity to develop friendships and grow in leadership, to deal with friends respectfully, post honestly, promote or support social actions… Risk: immaturity. Failing to develop a mature and responsible attitude on networks. It transforms the opportunities into threats to oneself and others, promoting bad curiosity, disrespect, lying…
Unlimited information: Social media give access to many sources, allows you to find answers. They are a teaching tool. Promote educational programs that increase interactive networks to answer questions or find information or work in group… Risk: one is not able to distinguish whether the response is adequate or not. Sometimes teens search in the internet or networks answers to their questions, especially in more intimate matters, rather than asking parents or persons authorized and trained to give the most appropriate response according to their age. This creates uncertainty and education becomes unbalanced in relation to the child’s age and the wishes of their parents.
In the end, only two options remain: children either make good use of these five attractions, developing mature digital citizenship and taking advantage of the circumstances, or plunge into personal immaturity.
Responsible digital citizenship requires that those involved in the education of children, especially parents, know and advise their children properly. Programs like Safe Social Media, which promote intergenerational dialogue, provide a useful educational tool for responsible digital citizenship.