Social media: Hostile and angry, or funny and creative? New study shows parents aren’t sure.

teens social media

Now I know how Neville Longbottom felt when trying take on a whole army of death eaters by himself. Not long ago I got up the courage to post my opinion about a controversial political issue on Facebook. The best way to sum up what happened next was, well, it seemed like hell had released all of its demons on me. I was a bigot. I was intolerant. And a bunch of other things that would have made Voldemort himself blush.

I’ve also had some great experiences on social media. Seeing photos of my nieces and nephews. Reading quotes that remind me of what’s really important. And some pretty funny stuff about both of the current major party candidates. And nobody appreciates awkward family photos more than I do.

A new study from researchers in the UK shows that many parents are just as unsure what to make of social media as I am. The study surveyed more than 1,700 parents of children ages 11-17 about their thoughts regarding social media. Many parents expressed concern about the negative content found in social media, including anger, hostility, arrogance, ignorance, and hatred. Many parents, however, also said they appreciate the humor, beauty, creativity, love, and courage found in social media content. The study also reported that many parents are concerned about the potentially harmful impact of social media, including its effects on children’s moral development.

So, is social media good for kids, or is it bad for kids? Of course, there is no straight answer. Just like TV isn’t inherently good or bad, social media can contain both good and bad “stuff.” What it comes down to, then, is teaching kids some social media rules to live by. I can’t remember where I heard it, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can keep it from building a nest. In other words, kids, like us, are going to be exposed to things that we don’t want them to see on social media. But they’ll be fine if they have the tools to deal with it.

Here are some things we’ve talked with our kids about regarding social media, including e-mail:

  • Don’t ever respond to somebody you don’t know personally in real life
  • Mom and dad get to be your friends on social media
  • Don’t send money to anybody from Nigeria asking for help with a money transfer
  • Anybody can say anything on social media. Don’t believe everything you see.

I suppose there is a lot more we need to teach our kids about social media. But if they learn one lesson, I hope I can find a way to teach them that social media can be used to help build people up. In a world that tends to chew people up and spit them out, the way we communicate with others has the power to strengthen, enliven, and build. To motivate, inspire, and comfort.

What do you think of social media for kids? What rules do you set? What conversations have you had with your kids about social media? What scares you the most about social media? What excites you the most about social media?

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