The way we talk about kids and social media, you'd think the Internet was a treacherous den of vipers, filled with sexual predators and bullies and all sorts of perils. We expend a lot of energy talking about how to protect our kids from the worst, how to monitor their activities and how to set limits.
But that's a rather narrow — and pessimistic — perspective on kids and social media. The reality isn't nearly so dire. Every so often it's good to recognize all the positive and inspiring ways kids use technology.
Take for example “Ugly Selfies,”the new photo trend profiled in last weekend's New York Times. In reaction to the over-sexualized beauty shots teens are increasingly exposed to — and pressured to produce — on Instagram and other photo-sharing platforms, some girls are posting the exact opposite: photos of themselves looking their worst. Girls tuck in their chins, grimace, roll their eyes and do everything they can to lampoon a rather toxic sharing practice. I love the idea — for the humor, self-awareness and empowerment it represents. Leave it to teenage girls to create an irresistible meme that says “no” with a playful grin.
You may not realize it, but YouTube is a social network. Kids are communicating with each other through videos, just as they're communicating through photos on Instagram. Sure, there are plenty of kids posting inappropriate content or leaving cruel comments. But some kids are using video to inspire — like Kid President. In collaboration with his older brother-in-law, 9-year-old Robby delivers hope-filled pep talks; needless to say, they've gone viral. For even more inspiration, there are a whole host of TED talks by kids.
According to a kidshealth.org survey, nearly half of kids say they've been bullied online , and some of them are fighting back — in smart and effective ways. For example, End to Cyber Bullying was co-founded by then-17-year-old Samuel Lam to raise awareness and help make the Internet a safer place for kids. The nonprofit provides information and compassionate services for at-risk kids and their families.
Beyond fighting against cyberbullying, kids are using social media for activism. According to Beliefnet, about 1 in 3 kids say they engage with a charitable organization online. Social media makes kids more aware of issues like global hunger — and kids are then using social media to speak out and act. For example, there's StuVoice, “a hub of student voice content on the Internet” that began as a series of Twitter chats. Then there is Do Something, a kind of youth-oriented Change.org that brings kids together in support of causes and charitable action. Also check out the Youth Activism Project, another activist organization for kids.
Kids shape social media simply by using it, but many are taking a more entrepreneurial approach. Here's a list of five apps created by kids, for kids. They cover everything from Minecraft support to brain-boosting games to pre-recorded answers to parents' most mundane questions.
So there you go — the kids are all right. Well, many of them are all right, most of the time. If it's not too intrusive, maybe you can steer your own kids in these directions. Or who knows — maybe they're already engaged in these positive social media trends.