Oct 28, 2009

Online Social Networks and Tweens

The only thing moving faster than tweens growing up is the ever-changing technology landscape! It’s hard enough, as adults, to stay abreast of moving-at-the-speed-of-light technology, but in order to offer guidance, we need to try to stay one step ahead (or at least a half of a step!).

There is no doubt that online social networking is here to stay – it’s one of the hottest, evolving trends for people who share similar interests. New social networking websites are being introduced all the time. In addition to the teen/adult focused sites that, not surprisingly, some tweens use (such as facebook, myspace and bebo), the more popular tween-focused social networking sites include: allykatzz, imbee, stardoll, whyville. clubpenguin, and webkinz, to name a handful. Each site has some basic similarities, but each also has it’s own “personality.”

When you think about it, there’s always been some form of communication that preteens overused to keep in touch with their peers. In the early 1900s, it was letter writing. Then, it was the phone. So, now it’s the internet — the bottom line is, kids have a strong need to socialize with each other!
Development Stage Impacts on Tweens’ Social Networking Needs

When considering approaches for parental involvement, it’s important to understand your tween’s position on the development continuum. According to the Byron Review, “Children and New Technology,” young tweens…are still immature at self-regulation, and their ability to inhibit and control impulses and emotions is still well below that observed in adults. This is the time when children begin exploring websites beyond the boundaries originally set for them by their parents.” Management of their “media diet” should begin to move from heavy control to supervision and increased discussion about online behavior. The goal is to support your tween to develop critical evaluation and self-management skills.

With older tweens, according to the Byron Review, they’re experiencing “a significant drive for social interactions. The focus of the child’s social world changes from the home and family to the external world, to peers and idols as individuation (the process of disengaging from the family unit, and beginning to become an autonomous, independent adult) begins.” It’s a time “to move towards collaborative management…empower them by discussing risk and mediate interpretation of challenging content.”

From a preteen’s perspective, social networking can be an exciting experience and a wonderful learning opportunity. The chance to share, learn and compare with another peer can be fascinating. But, as parents, we need to provide our preteens with insights and tools to be aware of basic safety precautions, online etiquette, and an appropriate amount of screen time.
Social Networking Isn’t All Bad!

Once safey, appropriateness and commercialism are addressed, used effectively, social networking sites can offer benefits for tweens:

  • Gives preteens an opportunity to interact with friends (both “real world” friends that they convene with online as well as “cyber” friends that they meet through low-risk socializing).
  • Allows tweens to distance themselves from real time, in-person interactions, to effectively take a break. While a steady diet of only this type of interaction would be too much, it offers a complement to school, where children interact with each other every day, throughout the day.
  • Enables tweens to construct their thoughts in a written format, giving them a chance to edit before they share their ideas.
  • Offers a means to gain basic computer literacy experience. As homework demands increase and use of the computer and internet become tools to help support learning, having keyboarding and general usage skills can be of value.
  • Provides a way to share creative works. This could also be an opportunity to become familiar with document software and  21st century journaling!
  • Promotes familiarity with marketplace activities. Some of the sites offer educational potential in the form of introducing earning opportunities and strategies for gaming success.

Safe Online Social Networking

First and foremost, educate yourself. You can hear about sites from your tween and their friends in addition to doing your own research (do a search for “top tween social networking sites” to find out the most recent additions to the mix). Read about these sites and visit them to get the most comprehensive picture.

In addition, consider some basic social networking tips and suggestions as you help your preteen navigate online social networks safely and effectively:

  • Keep the computer out of private spaces, so you can always take a look at what sites your child is visiting (and they’ll know you’re nearby while they’re socializing).
  • Join your child’s online groups, either via sites that require your permission to join or by adding your own profile and insisting that your child “friend” you.
  • Share your thoughts about communications etiquette with your child. Ensure your preteen thinks about the impact of words (without body language) in the form of written communications. Words can be misinterpreted.
  • Ensure that your tween understands the need for privacy and not sharing personal information on line.
  • Finally, reinforce the importance of telling you when something doesn’t feel right about an online interaction.

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