Discover the ways social media can be a force for good in the lives of kids and teens, and them maximize the benefits.

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If you’re old enough to remember when there were only three television networks? How excited were you when you finally got cable? That’s what it’s like for your child in this world of social media.

It seems like every day there are new apps or social sites for your child to explore.  Some reports say that 85% or parents with teenage children (ages 13-17) say their child has a social networking profile.

The prevailing media says that using social media is having a negative effect on teen lives. Living so much in an

But that’s a good thing.

Social Media Offers Benefits to Children
It strengthens friendships. The Pew Research Center says that 57% of teens ages 13-17 have made a new friend online.  Online gaming builds stronger connections between friends.  Much more than for girls, boys use video games as a way to spend time and engage in day-to-day interactions with peers. When playing games online, many teen gamers (especially boys) connect with their fellow players via voice connections to engage in collaboration, conversation…and yes, some good-old fashioned trash talking.

There is tremendous amount of research evaluating the impact of games on brain development, and much of it contradicts our popular assumptions. Games make you want to work, overcome obstacles, and think through things in a different way to attain your goal.

It offers a sense of belonging. Social media may also not be bad for teen’s self-esteem. While 21 percent of teens surveyed said that reading what others post on social media makes them feel bad about themselves, 78 percent said that social media did not make them feel worse.

Most teens in the study said that using texting and social media sites help them connect with other and communicate, no different than using the phone back in their parents’ day.

And many schools and community service organizations are posting photos online from events. There’s nothing more encouraging to a child than when they receive community recognition for their contribution. Not only does social media participation provide this opportunity, but it also provides the opportunity to meet other kids who share the same interests.

It helps them express themselves. Both producers and performers can satisfy a need for creative self-expression through social media.
“I encourage teens to surround themselves with people who support their creative efforts – whether it’s to dress crazy, make a music video, or try a challenging yoga posture,” says Anna Farkas, founder of Juve Teen Yoga.

She cautions teens to be mindful about the comparing game, especially when it comes to social media.

“Encourage them to use it to share their gifts, like posting writing, artwork, or music they made,” she says.

Digital technology allows kids to share their work with a wider audience and even collaborate with far-flung partners (an essential 21st-century skill).

It lets them do good. Twitter, Facebook, and other large social networks expose kids to important issues and people from all over the world. Kids realize they have a voice they didn’t have before and are doing everything from crowdfunding for people in need to anonymously Tweeting positive thoughts.
Huffington Post sites a story about Jeremiah Anthony, a 17-year old high school junior from Iowa City, who with two friends started a Twitter feed to dispense heartfelt and thoughtful compliments that are share with over 4,000 followers.

Four grade 12 girls from Winnipeg, Samantha-Maria Figeroa, Simarjeet Gill, Jennier Pazdor and Stephanie Zabar, created an augmented reality app, Save Our Minds, to help students cope with the stresses of everydaylife by providing helplines and information on some of the most important social issues for kids including bullying.

Supplemental education. Whether it’s being in a kid social network that helps them learn about hermit crabs, or wanting to spell “Cincinnati” correctly, our kids are supplementing their education online at home or at school.

Social media can help children connect with like-minded individuals, including mentors, that share similar interests and aspirations that can help them achieve long-term goals.

The Social Media Landscape Has Changed
Just as the introduction of cable, satellite and iTunes, there is a change happening and it’s now online.

While it may seem as though the Internet industry doesn’t care about making sure their products are family-friendly and secure, change is happening. Social sites like Yoursphere, intended just for kids, take a proactive approach to protecting children’s privacy. No information is requests, and all profiles are always set to private and can’t be changed.

Monitoring your child’s online life is about teaching an ethical framework and how to treat people with standards in the online world.

Just like you had to teach your mom and dad how to set the VCR to record, learn from your child. These “digital natives” already know they’re light years ahead of some of us in understanding and using technology. So ask questions and let them enjoy telling you how to technology works while you guide them in social learning.

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