The surprising ways social media can benefit young students

The Benefits of Social Media

Only a decade ago, school-aged children were forced to communicate with one another the old-fashioned way. They talked in hallways. They wrote notes. They talked on the phone into the wee hours of the morning, or at least until their parents discovered they were still awake. And now, just ten years later, the social landscape has changed dramatically due to the growth of the Internet and a swarm of new ways to communicate online. What started with Myspace quickly exploded into a social networking phenomenon thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and countless others. And although social media didn't exist in this way just a short decade ago, it's now become ingrained in the way we live, the way we communicate, and the way we connect socially.


Social media's dangers

Unfortunately, the rise in social media use among school-aged children has led to concerns from both parents and educators. A recent study from the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools revealed some troubling consequences for kids who engage with social media on a regular basis. For instance, 72 percent of students (age 9-12) surveyed reported experiencing cyberbullying, a fairly recently-coined phrase used to describe the use of technology or the Internet to harass another person in a repeated and intentional way.

A compilation of other studies also revealed troubling statistics, including the notion that social networking may lead to lower psychological well-being for some girls. In addition family members of social media users have reported a lack of quality family time with their child. Other research shows that kids who talk about smoking or drinking on social media and suffer no consequences might think it's the norm. Of course, these are just a few of the drawbacks to children's repeated use of social media. There are surely others, and possibly even some yet to be seen.

The benefits of social media

Despite its negative aspects, there are benefits of social media use that span all age groups, even adolescence. In a report for the American Psychological Association, Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D. argues that for all of the unhealthy behavior we observe kids engaging in on social media, there is, in fact, some good coming out of it. According to Rosen, it's all about socialization and personal development, and the social learning and skill-building that inevitably occurs when students and peers gather in one place, virtual or not.

A recent article in The Atlantic echoes this sentiment while focusing on the role social media plays in the emotional development of boys. According to teacher Andrew Simmons, the recent surge in social networking may encourage young men to display their intellectual and emotional side in a way that regular social discourse never has before.

"Many of my students grow up in households in which machismo reigns supreme. They've never been allowed to cry. Their mothers and sisters cook and wash the dishes and clean. They've been encouraged to see themselves as dominant, powerful, swaggering, sullen men, not sensitive and reflective men, powerfully kind, confidently open," Simmons writes.

"In this sense, Facebook is a genuine outlet for the young men I teach. Just as social networking frees users from public decorum and encourages the birthing of troll alter egos, it allows my students to safely, if temporarily, construct kinder, gentler versions of themselves as well."

Other benefits of social media usage are also emerging. As an article in Psychology Today points out, social media can help shy and timid students learn to communicate with their peers. Introverted young people stand to benefit from getting to know one another in a sheltered, low-risk environment. According to the article, social media may also boast educational benefits, as it encourages the use of technologies commonly found in school and the workplace.

Social media: A family affair

A recent study from Brigham Young University uncovered yet another benefit to letting kids maintain an online presence. According to the report, children and parents connected through social media often feel closer to one another. The school surveyed almost 500 families to examine their social networking habits and the impact that it had on their family dynamic. The authors of the study reported that social media users were more likely to be kind, helpful, and generous to others.

Lead author of the study Sarah Coyne argues that social media can provide families with an additional platform to give positive feedback and show affection to one another. According to her, that in itself may be enough to tighten family bonds and foster effective methods of communication among family members.

"Social networks give an intimate look at your teenager's life," Coyne tells redOrbit.com. "It lets parents know what their kids are going through, what their friends think is cool or fun, and helps them feel more connected to their child. It gives a nice little window into what is going on."

"Facebook Has Transformed My Students' Writing -- for the Better," The Atlantic, November 18, 2013, Andrew Simmons, http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/facebook-has-transformed-my-students-writing-for-the-better/281563/
"Social Networking and Peer Relationships: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Children (9-12) Using Online Social Networking Sites," UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools, http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/socialnet.pdf
"The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good of Kids' Use of Social Media," Psychology Today, May 28, 2013, Jim Taylor, Ph.D., http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201305/the-bad-the-ugly-and-the-good-kids-use-social-media
"Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids," American Psychological Association, August 2011, Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., http://www.fenichel.com/pokeme.shtml
"Families Who Connect Through Social Media Feel Closer," redOrbit, July 16, 2013, http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1112898355/social-media-help-families-connect-071613/
"Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking," Brigham Young University, July 11, 2013, Sarah M. Coyne, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Randal D. Day, James Harper, and Laura Stockdale, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2012.0623?journalCode=cyber&&&