The Pros and Cons of Early Exposure to Social Media
In the age of the Internet, many parents and teachers are faced with the question, ‘how young is too young to expose children to social media?’ Tech literacy is a valuable skill and one which children are encouraged to develop from an early age. Many experts are actually for early exposure to computers to help prepare students for school. However, there is a difference between technical literacy for academic purposes and social media literacy.
Understanding computers usually entails proficiency into a computer’s necessary academic and business applications. Competency in typing, spelling, grammar, Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint is considered valuable knowledge for young people to have under their belts. Though increasingly, the age of computer literacy also entails a social media presence as a prerequisite for having a better social life.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
The question of how much early exposure is healthy depends on a variety of factors. Cutting children off from social media is not considered the healthiest option. Because social media interfaces provide children and adolescents with unique opportunities to stay connected and network with friends, denial of use might be overkill. However, parents and teachers must equip children with a guidebook for Internet safety, courtesy, and correct use.
There are many valid parental concerns about early exposure to social media. Besides the obvious complaints about children developing sedentary lifestyles or ‘growing up too fast,’ parents feel that internet safety cannot be controlled. Many parents and teachers worry about social media as a beacon for online child predators. For this reason, social media at a young age often requires parental guidance.
Parents are encouraged to understand each social media interface so that they may keep an eye on their child’s internet activity. For example, parents of school-aged children with Facebook accounts are encouraged to know and approve the friends in their child’s contact list. Additionally, parents are encouraged to know their child’s passwords so that if need be, they can check messages, statuses or deactivate the account. Internet safety is manageable if children and families act establish clear ground rules. Then social media can be a matter of fun, entertainment and staying connected.
A major point of irritation for families is the time young people will devote to social media. Even for adults, social media is considered highly addictive. Children are considered especially susceptible to going overboard with fun, new hobbies. Therefore, it is advisable for families only to permit certain amounts of use. Through setting boundaries, children will be able to effectively manage their time and still maintain an online social life.
Reality vs. Virtual Reality
A growing concern regarding social media is the long-term impact of social media use. Social media can provide an excellent way to meet people, attend events, create and network. At the same time, it may also deny young people the chance to interact organically. Social media interaction can be so enticing; it can significantly downsize or even eliminate hands-on time. Children need to interact directly with the world around them. Real interaction helps children develop a well-rounded worldview. It enhances real social skills and levels of confidence. Being a social media personality at a young age provides adolescents with a false sense of popularity. This is not as healthy as having a real social life.
At the same time, parents are often ‘wowed’ by the ease of communication and development of friendships and relationships through social media. Social media can be a viable means to help children adjust socially. Online platforms allow children to have interactions from the safety of their home; a stepping stone to in-person meetings. Social media ‘friends’ often refer to friends that start as online pen pals from the same school or community. These friends can eventually become good face-to-face companions.
Social media is the undeniable wave of the future. There are a variety of positive and negative consequences of this new style of interaction. The best way to help children navigate this new world is to neither deny it nor allow them to be saturated with it. The word is ‘balance.’ A balance should be created between a young person’s academic, social and physical development. Parents and teachers should strive to help children achieve this healthy balance by encouraging physical activities away from a computer screen.