Every day, there’s a fresh news story about some negative aspect of social media. (Don’t believe me? Here’s one. Here’s one. And here’s another one.) It makes me want to collect my kids' tech devices and lock them in a closet until they're 25. (The devices, not the kids.)
But despite the flood of bad news, social media is a part of millennial life and it isn’t going away. So instead of cutting off our teens' access completely, let’s take a look at some of the good things that happen there. If we keep in mind that there's a balance between good and bad in everything—even social media—we might just be able to teach our kids how to find it. And then, when they move out into the world, they'll be better equipped to continue that balancing act.
Here are five reasons why I let my kids use social media:
Social media is also creative media
Networks like Instagram and Vine encourage creativity with photos and videos. Art and music classes are diminishing in schools—so social networks may end up becoming a great new forum for self-expression and creativity. Check out these examples, if you’re skeptical: Instagram and Vine.
It might help them find the perfect college
A friend showed me this really cool tool on Linkedin. Linkedin has put all the data its users generate to good use, to inform new college applicants about which colleges might be a good fit.
We analyzed millions of alumni profiles to find out how universities stack up across a variety of careers. Then, we ranked schools based on how successful their recent graduates have been at landing desirable jobs as designers, software developers, investment bankers and more. These are the first rankings using alumni career outcomes to rank schools for specific careers.
The beauty of Instagram, the beauty of staying in touch
Alyx started babysitting for our family when she was 14. We saw her so often over the next 4 years, she was practically a member of the family. (I've written before about the value of having a trusted babysitter who is willing to be your children's guardian both in the real world and online.) We all cried when she left for college, because it meant we wouldn't see her as much. But in today's social media world there's really no excuse not to stay in touch. Recently, Alyx took a school-sponsored trip to India that resulted in some exquisite travel photos that she posted to Instagram—where my kids follow her. Because of this Instagram connection, my kids had a chance to reconnect with a beloved family friend. They also got a compelling look at an exotic country and a little spark to add to the flame of their own future travels.
Minecraft is educational. No, really!
Research shows that while teen girls spend most of their time online using social media, teen boys spend it playing video games. Games like Minecraft can also have a social aspect, since they allow players to join together in the digital world (and also have a text component for simple communication.) Most parents I know don’t consider Minecraft an educational game—but there’s growing evidence that maybe they should reconsider.
When my son’s third-grade teacher announced that Minecraft had become part of her Friday afternoon lesson plan, I raised an eyebrow. But the more time I spent watching my kids interacting with the game, the more I could appreciate her point. Offering Minecraft time on Fridays proved to be a terrific incentive for good behavior during the week, and it was also, by all accounts, a genuinely good learning experience.
It's easy to see that Minecraft requires imagination. There's also a problem-solving element, as kids (and, let's face it, no small number of adults) build increasingly elaborate structures. When used in a group setting, the game encourages collaboration and compromise—things that I'm happy my kids are getting more of at school. And the fact that they're so enthusiastic about it is a huge bonus.
Social media can help kids to define themselves
Much has been made of the idea that crafting an online persona can be harmful for teens. It’s too easy for them to focus on presenting only the positive aspects of their lives, and to set themselves up in competition for the “best” selfie, the “best” vacation, the “best” social life. But in the process of creating a persona, teens may discover elements of themselves that would otherwise go unexamined. They're encouraged to take a deeper look at who they are and what they want to be known for. It’s reasonable to assume this kind of self-exploration might actually help them to become the sort of person their online persona says they are.
YouTube can teach your kid to play ukulele
There are almost certainly some things on YouTube that you'd rather your kids didn't see. But for the moment, let's focus on all the other things YouTube has to offer. Like free ukulele lessons. Or a cooking demonstration about How To Make the Perfect Omelette. Or How to Tie A Tie.
(It's also a handy place to get answers to pesky parenting questions, like: Why Are Teens So Moody?)