Can Social Media Help Build Self-Esteem and Social Skills Among Children?
In the midst of all the news about cyberbullying and privacy issues, it’s important to realize all of the wonderful benefits that social media has provided not only us, but our children. A recent study by Patti Valkenburg, a professor at the University of Amsterdam’s Center for Research on Children, Adolescents and the Media, found that for most children social media mainly presents a positive experience that allows them to build their self-esteem, create friendships, and develop/hone their social skills.
“…the Internet gives them the opportunity to rehearse it [social skills] in a relatively safe way”, said Valkenburg.
I thought this was interesting considering the fact that, contrary to what her study found, most parents/adults believe that the Internet and social media actually weaken the social skills of today’s youth. And though I think this is true, it’s only true when it pertains to a child whose online life isn’t accompanied by a rich, resourceful “real life”, one that offers real-life role models and aspirations.
That said, it’s important that parents help their children balance their online time with things like family time, or “outside time”—in fact, setting simple rules like no cell phones at the dinner table or no Internet after 8pm can help create/maintain that balance. Failing to establish this equilibrium, and Valkenburg’s study supports this, can have a negative effect on a child’s self-esteem and perception on things like friendship, self-identity, and respect for others.
If we step back and take a balcony stance on the way the world works today, it’s easy to see that social media has impacted who we are and the way we communicate, and more importantly, who our children are going to be. Granted, we parents grew up with the same social challenges that our kids face today: friendships, relationships, school, peer pressure, etc. But the obvious advantages that our children have over us are the dozens of different outlets in which they can face those challenges. Now the test that faces us as parents, website developers, politicians, and most importantly, role models, is to make those outlets as safe as possible by implementing smart solutions and educating our children so they can lead normal lives without having to worry about their identity being stolen, their privacy being jeopardized, or their reputation being destroyed because of cyberbullying or sexting.
Every day I see the results of the tiny steps being made in this direction. They’re embodied by the kids in Yoursphere, with their creativity, their kindness, and their willingness to embrace the unique opinions and characteristics of other members. These kids have made it clear to me that, given the opportunity, they can be honest and reap the rich rewards that social media can provide while using it in a positive and constructive way.