In a nutshell, I founded Yoursphere Media Inc., a company that focuses on the family, because of the five reasons I’m sharing with you in this series. Warning: the content of this series is disturbing, but it continues to fuel our company’s commitment to creating a kids social network and an educational resource for parents. Please read and share. We all need to know that it’s not “just about Facebook”. It’s about the content, culture and people that exist in many of the sites our children are members of, or are exposed to.
As parents that are online community participants, we’ve all probably realized that our kids are going to be involved in social networking/social media. We can like it, or not. Regardless, our kids ARE living in a 24/7 digital world, and social media is today’s version of “hanging out”.
While we have accepted this participation, do we know how it’s going to benefit our children? (Other than relief for us from the nagging: “all my friends are on Facebook and Myspace…I want to be, too”. Besides the “no more nagging and crowd effect”, what are the benefit to our children when they are participating members?
As I’ve said before: participation online is like the traditional field trip: positive, educational, beneficial, aids to what our kids learn in the classroom and at home. (I’ll save the “however” part of the experience for later…)
Here’s what the experts who worked on the Digital Youth Project conducted primarily at USC and UCB found after researching tweens and teens on social networking:
- The constant communication that social networking provides is encouraging useful skills.
- This communication is creating new opportunities for young people to grapple with social norms, exploring interests, developing technical skills and allows them to work on norms of self expression.
- According to co-author Lisa Tripp, “certain technical skills in the coming years are not going to be just about consuming media…it’s going to be about producing media. It’s not just about writing a blog, but also how to leave comments that say something. Learning to communicate like this is contribution to the general circulation of culture”. (This means anything from a video clip to a profile page is going to reflect the self-expressions skills one has.)
- Social networking contributes greatly to teens’ extended friendships and interests. “This kind of communication has let teens expand their social circle by common interests”.
- “They can publicize and distribute their work to online audiences and become sort of a microexpert in that area”.
So, I have to tell you, they’re right. I have experienced this myself at home. My younger kids have only been worried about how to spell twice: Once when they are preparing for a test, second, when they’re communicating with friends on Yoursphere and posting. “Mom, how do you spell Cincinnati? I’m writing to Lex. I don’t want to look stupid.” My daughter loves it when she meets someone that loves the same lyrics of a song, or can get help styling her sphere from another member.
Or I’ve watched the avid group of young writers in Yoursphere that discovered “Bman”, who writes poetry and all the girls have shared their own poems with him. It’s really cool to see the interest and exchanges happening real time.
The study does warn: parents still have an important role to play when it comes to tweens, teens and social networking. They need to accept that technology is a necessary and important part of culture for young people, and be aware of who the teens are communicating.
Here is where the “however” comes in: It’s been my personal experience over the last three years that I’ve spent inside social media sites, that experts have not addressed nor identified the core problem. That is: what happens when children participate in online communities created by adults and for adults. As this series will reveal, communication is the first line of protection, however, nobody shared with us parents that along the way (on this social media “field trip”), our children would be:
- Participating in a culture that if the computer wasn’t involved, would be illegal, immoral, unethical or unacceptable.
- Exposed to negative things they’d likely never have seen prior, if at all.
- Potentially aggressively sexually solicited.
- Exposed to pornography, or creating their own.
- In danger of losing their true selves.
- In danger or losing their childhood.
- In danger of losing their innocence.
These are the issues that we need to be educated about. I encourage you as you continue to digest this information to breathe deeply, take a drink of water, but don’t run away and unplug your computer. Social media does benefit our children’s lives; it’s just our time now to make a change to balance the scales so that the positives way, way, way, way outweigh the negatives. The negatives are too great, too many , too consequential, too unacceptable as you’ll see in this series.
I hope the facts that I reveal here help you understand why I’ve committed myself, (including my husband and family, Lee and Kathryn Rees, our investors, and the rest of the dedicated Yoursphere Media Inc. team) to changing the environment our kids socially network on through Yoursphere.com. As well, why I’ve decided to become an advocate for parent education and involvement regarding social media participation and the Internet.