Social Networking & Kids: Striving to Raise a Generation of Ethical Digital Citizens


Last month, the editor of Mbaykids.com asked me to write a piece on social networking and kids for their print magazine, Scoop! Here's the, um, scoop.


What is a social network? 
All humans have engaged in social networks for as long as they have been, well, human. These are the groups of people, family, friends and colleagues that make our lives rich and engaging.

Online social network services like Facebook provide a convenient means for us to interact with these people, who are increasingly spread out around the world. While Facebook is the largest online social network, it is intended only for those over 13 years old and while some parents turn a blind eye, Facebook is not a safe place for youngsters. However, there is a wide variety of social networks available where kids can interact with their friends online safely and where they can learn to become ethical digital citizens. A great resource is Common Sense Media  (www.commonsensemedia.org), which provides great advice and website reviews for parents in our media dense world.

How can I help my child use these sites safely?  
The most important thing you can do while navigating social networking sites with children is to keep a continued conversation open about the Internet. The  first conversation you want to have is about reputation. Back in the 70s and 80s, childhood transgressions conveniently forgot themselves, but in today's digital world, kids can leave a permanent record by carelessly posting comments or photos they will regret in the future.  Everything posted online can be copied and republished indefi nitely. Nothing should be posted on the web that you don't want the world to see.

Next, have an ongoing conversation with your child about respect. Even innocent teasing can be easily misinterpreted. Some sites allow folks to hide in anonymity and kids can really hurt others. It's even more important for kids to be nice online because these interactions stick around for a long time and can be posted publicly.

You can help your children take advantage of these tools by maintaining open conversations about becoming ethical digital citizens. Resist the urge to isolate your child from the many benefits of using the Internet. Like the web, a swimming pool can be a dangerous place, but it's better to teach a kid to swim rather than lock him out of the pool until he is adult. Set boundaries, keep the computer in a central location, and use the computer together. They'll benefit from learning from you.  And you'll, no doubt, learn something from them, as well.

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