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December 03, 2009

Social Media – And the Kids are Alright

Social-network

Being a tech-savvy, social networking, bang the keyboard, sort of mom I always find myself defending our kids and the way they socialize online. My kids grew up first with email, then IM, touched on MySpace and came of age smack in the heart of Facebook, video chatting and text messaging. For the most part they are well socialized and as far as I can tell their vocal chords have not atrophied. They even have eye contact when they speak to people. 

That is not to say I have not had my share of disgust when I look across a table, room or car and see those thumbs furiously banging out a text. But I have to admit, I can be just as guilty. Show of hands, how many moms have gone out to dinner with a group of women and as soon as everyone sits down the iphones and blackberries come out of the bags and on to the table. "We need to stay in touch with the kids," we all say. But have we not fallen victim to the same addiction to being in touch?

We had a discussion at our Thanksgiving table about this topic. Those who are less apt to embrace technology were quick to judge and consider this next generation hopeless in regards to social skills. Let's face it, we can either move with technology or fight it and sound like every other generation that helped forge a gap. 

Simple fact: social networking is not going away. It will morph constantly and our kids will learn each new tool effortlessly because they have been trained to break the code naturally. Some of us will do the same, others will live in fear of what it has done to the art of conversation and interpersonal relationships.

For the latter group, let me give you some news that should ease your fears. The Pew Internet and American Life project recently released an 89-page report titled, Social Isolation and New Technology, How the internet and mobile phones impact Americans' social networks. Interestingly this study finds that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985 (hmmm, that was the year I was married, odd coincidence). Although this study was conducted with adult subjects, the findings are promising and lean towards social networking aiding in broadening our horizons and giving us better tools to actually enhance existing relationships and stay in touch. People are more likely engage online with those from other backgrounds, race and political affiliation.

So that is the good news. The bad news is that social networking is moving so quickly the ability to adjust to the new ways of communicating is taxing for parents. Age appropriateness is important as well as setting limits. Teaching good habits, proper manners and acceptable behavior online should simply be an extension of the way we teach our kids to socialize offline. It is our responsibility to parent here as we do everywhere else. And as with all coming of age topics, sometimes they learn the hard way. We had a full IM copied, pasted and emailed to a group in middle school that seemed as if it would have been the end of the world. Hopefully that incident hit home and altered future behavior.

That same child is now in college. Hands down technology has given me the ability to keep in touch with her while not cramping her style. The need to 'talk' is quelled by the ability to shoot a text or IM to stay in touch while respecting her privacy and freedom. Granted when I was in college the contact was limited to the Sunday night phone call. This does make me feel sorry for her generation, for with the access to each other the trade-off they have to endure is OUR access to THEM. And they have to listen to their parents constantly reprimanding them for what they consider anti-social behavior.

Hey, perhaps there will be a market for social media etiquette classes. Imagine a classroom of kids typing and texting with little white gloves on! In all seriousness, the opportunities that social media will afford our children personally as well as professionally is staggering. The ability to maintain long distance relationships, job flexibility and the opportunity to meet people outside their comfort zone are just a few big pluses. 

Social media will make our kids more worldly and less likely to feel isolated than ever before. 

Yep, the way I see it the kids are alright.

Original 50-something Moms Blog post. Amy Zimmerman also blogs at i could cry but i don't have time and leaving the zip code.

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