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The pros and cons of raising kids with social media

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A recent article by Mark Weinstein in the Huffington Post, Weinstein defends social media for the good it offers youth. And while we must be open-minded and not focus only on the negative impact social media has on youth, the negative impact should not be underestimated because our parenting culture has not caught up to the sophisticated ways in which nefarious and bad actors can take our children down in the cyber realm.

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As with any invention, the benefits and negative consequences are found in how we choose to use it. Guns, matches, prescription medication and smartphones can all be used for good, or not good. So let us consider some of the pros and cons of social media, always seeking moderation and balance.

Pros of social media: Expanded connectivity for friends and family, global perspectives

Erin Ambrose is a Marriage and Family Therapist and instructor at William Jessup University in Rocklin. “When preteens and teens are beginning to pull away from traditional face to face communication with parents, social media offers a way to stay connected,” she said. “Parents have also shared with me how they learned about some significant things going on in their teenager's life via Facebook.”

Granite Bay mother of four, Christi Benz, has found herself really enjoying SnapChat with her children – three of whom are away attending college in other parts of the country, and one teenager is in high school. “It is easy to have quick conversations,” she said. “You can exchange small snippets about what is happening, and it does not require you to post it on Facebook for others to see.”

Dr. Shadi Jani, Vice President of B.R.A.V.E. Society in Carmichael observes that the benefit of social media is to encourage children to find their voice by expressing opinion, and participating in movements for positive social change. “Social media can also increase the level of mobilization of global resources including the human resource and the power of younger minds when dealing with global issues like eradicating hunger,” she said.

Cons of social media: Potentially thwarts social skills & leads to cyber bullying

Ambrose also observes that while children gain exposure and learn from other cultures, the benefits are a mixed bag in that children who struggle with social skills may find it easier to rely upon social media as a crutch.

And while Benz enjoys the benefits of social media with her grown children, she doesn’t believe that social media has enhanced the childhood experience. “Honestly, if social media had never been discovered, I am sure our children would be fine,” she said. “Using the internet to conduct research and learn is one thing, but I am not convinced that the children have learned to be better at socializing through social media.”

Jani encourages parents to recognize that there is constant danger of a hostile peer community inspired by loss of inhibition of communicating through a device. “We should be aware of the tragic consequences of cyber bullying and the misguided use of technology at all times," she said.

Benz observes that kids are not socializing face-to-face. “I see them at Mel’s sitting at the table with their heads down looking at the screens,” she said. “We really should be asking if it is a healthy thing.”

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