The internet and technology has taken up a very huge chunk from our daily lives. We spend a lot of time online to get updates all around the globe, to socialize and even to work. But the most popular site that we all use these days are social media sites that includes Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and many others. Because of this, even our kids are also involved in social media.
We are left with no choice because social media is really here to stay. Social media can actually be good for the kids but it could also be dangerous for them at the same time. That is why, it is important that we are aware of what social media can do to our kids. Awareness is the key so that we can protect the kids and help them learn at the same time. So, what should parents do about this? How can we make sure that our kids are safe while using social media? What are the upside and downside this issue?
Kids on Facebook
Since Facebook is the most widely used social media website, we will try to tackle more about it. There are so many things that make Facebook attractive for kids which includes game applications. Even my younger brother uses Facebook a lot everyday because of those games.
Facebook is the number one website around the globe based on Alexa rank because of the number of users that visit it everyday. Yes, we made Facebook number one and part of that are our kids. Around 7.5 million kids are in Facebook which is 38% of those kids under the age of 12. But Facebook actually doesn't allow kids under 13 years old to use Facebook but what is happening now is that even babies have Facebook accounts. Yes, I have seen so many Facebook accounts made by parents because they find joy in seeing their young one’s faces in the internet.
In an article in The Guardian, it says that "Facebook admits that it is powerless to stop young users setting up profiles" because they can always lie about their birthdays upon signup. Another factor that for the involvement of kids in social media are the parents. 86% of parents are aware that their kids are on Facebook and 36% of them helped their young ones set up their own accounts. Well, with parents guiding the kids online, that would be good in order to make sure that they will not visit websites and see contents that are not good for them. Despite the high percentage of parents who help the kids to be in Facebook, still 74% of them are highly concerned of the kid's safety. 
Facebook has this feature which can guide the parents on what to do if there are young kids on their site. There is a tool for parents and educators where parents can get information and answers to different queries that might arise when young users are in Facebook. They also have a Family Safety Center that is filled with so much information about safety on the internet and many others. Parents can check on them in order to get guides and resources in using Facebook with kids.
Upside of Social Media
As we all know, there are so much relevant information that kids can get online. They can learn and increase their knowledge on educational stuffs when guided accordingly. Also, based on the study of the American Psychological Association, kids can develop "virtual empathy" which can also lead to real world empathy. This is due to the things they see online like the causes in Facebook and other shared information for people who needs help. A mere photo-liking contest in Facebook encourages your kids to help by liking the photo and sharing it to others. The different causes in Facebook like pages for animal welfare, poverty and others could also urge them to help and could also be an eye-opener to the realities of life.
Social media can help for the interpersonal and social development of kids. Introvert kids who are shy could build confidence to socialize online. They could start building relationships through their online friends while being free from awkward moments like what usually happens for personal meet-ups. An introvert kid can start getting out of his nutshell of shyness through social media. Kids can also find a way for personal expression of their emotions and they could also get to share their own thoughts, ideas and interests to other people.
Since kids are in Facebook, we are certain that the entire family is also in Facebook. With that, everyone can connect and share things online even if they aren't together all day long. This can help improve and strengthen family bonds. Also, it would be a lot easier for parents to monitor the activities of their kids if they are connected in Facebook. We will be able to see what our kids are doing through news feeds and notifications.
Another obvious advantage that social media can give is our kid's knowledge on how to use technology. The digital footprint could give a huge advantage to the kids in excelling in school and even getting a job in the future especially that everything is already about technology. It can also educate children on so many different ways and could develop the kid's brains because the mere use of the computer and other gadgets is already a good way of learning. Kids can also develop better communication skills. 
Downside of Social Media
As always, there would be a negative side of the coin. Social media could risk the kids to experience depression, psychological disorders, cyber bullying and addiction. We would look at these things one by one so we can have better understanding about them.
Upon seeing different pictures on the internet like people having a good time, getting new stuffs and achieving something, kids might feel that they don't measure up to what others are able to do. They would start comparing themselves to others and would end up feeling bad that they couldn't be like what others can do, can acquire and can achieve. Another thing, some kids feel depressed if someone comments negatively on what they share or if someone unfriends them in Facebook. Some kids might also feel upset that they have lesser friends than others. 
Kids might also be at risk in getting psychological disorders that includes Histrionic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Sadistic, Passive-Aggressive, Borderline, Paranoid, and Somatoform Personality Disorders. This was based on the study conducted by Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University. Social media tends to make the kids develop a different perspective on romance, friendship and other relationships. Some might get involved in cybersex because of the sexual contents online while those who are exposed to violent online games would be more aggressive but are socially secluded.
Cyber bullying is not new to us. You might heard of different cyber bullying in your area. Even famous people are being bullied. Cases of cyber bullying includes sending threats, saying destructive things about others,sharing bad images of someone and others that would offend the subject. Local governments and even Facebook has done steps in order to help the issue of cyber bullying. But parents still need to see to it that their kids are not victims of this.
One obvious disadvantage of social media is addiction. My younger brother for instance, spends his entire day online. He is hooked with social media and the games that are in it. The study of American Psychological Association shows that "48% of 18-34-year-olds check FB when they wake up; 28% before they get out of bed." Isn't that addiction? Kids in the old days would pray before they sleep and when the wake up. Today, kids would update their status before going to sleep and upon waking up.
What Parents Can Do
Now that we are already aware of what social media can do to our kids, it is important to know what we can do to maximize the advantages of social media and minimize the harm that it can do to them.
1. Create rules in using the internet. One way of controlling the use social media and to avoid addiction is to limit the number of hours they can use Facebook and other social media sites. You have to be strict with this rule too. But you can let them use the internet for projects and researches.
2. Check privacy settings. You can set the strictest privacy settings for your child's computer and for Facebook. You can do that through the settings tab of your browser to control cookies, third party sites and more. It would also be easy to control the privacy setting in Facebook and other social media sites.
3. Install filtering software. These software like Pure Sight could help you track what your kids are doing online. It can also protect your kids from cyber bullying and even pornographic contents. Look for these kind of software for this will surely help you and your kids a lot.
4. Check on your kid's internet habits. This means that you need to know what websites he likes to check most of the time and you should also check on the kind of people he is interacting with in Facebook. If you can find people who are not good influences to your kids, block them so that they won't be able to connect with your kids anymore. Also, monitor what kids share and post online to make sure that they do not reveal any private information about themselves and that they won't share anything that might harm them and others too.
5. Train them to always consult you. Despite the online independence, you have to train your kids to always consult you especially if there are surveys, free items, discounts and others because this might risk them in giving away some private information.
If you try these tips, you would be able to protect your kids from social media without depriving them from their rights to use it. Since technology could be good or bad, it is important that parents will get involved. Kids won't mind if you do this as long as you explain things well to them. The key to this is proper communication and let them understand that you are doing all of it because you love and care for them.
1. UKnowKids.(n.d.) Under 13 on Facebook. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://info.uknowkids.com/facebook-targets-kids-under-the-age-of-13-child-predator-or-child-protector/
2. MacArthur Foundation. (2008, November 20). Study Shows Time Spent Online Important for Teen Development. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.macfound.org/press/publications/study-shows-time-spent-online-important-for-teen-development/
3. The Associated Press. (2011, March 28). "Facebook depression" Seen as New Risk for Teens. CBSNews.com. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/28/earlyshow/living/parenting/main20047775.shtml
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