Friday, December 19, 2008

Sue Scheff - Teen Social Networking and Parenting

As usual, Connect with Kids offers valuable articles for parents. This week they touch on the critical subject of our kids and the Internet. I know first hand the pros and cons of Cyberspace, however the challenge is getting our children to understand how important it is to protect yourself online and know that the Internet has a vast amount of great information but like with many things in life, you need to be aware of the pitfalls that may come with it.

Source Connect with Kids

“I wasn’t like other kids, you know, they had the Internet at home and I didn’t, so I felt like I was being deprived of something.”
– Ashley, 16 years old

Sixteen-year-old Ashley has always been a good student, but two years ago, she became a better student.

“In my history class, where we had to do a lot of research, I went from a B to an A,” she says.
What made the difference? Ashley believes it was her increased use of the Internet. She always had Web access at school but not at home.

“I wasn’t like other kids, you know, they had the Internet at home and I didn’t, so I felt like I was being deprived of something,” Ashley says.

Researchers, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, observed over 800 teens and their parents. The study found that, sure enough, parents think that spending hours online is unproductive for kids. But, the study also found that online teenagers are learning- socially, technologically … and academically.

“They are spending more time looking at text, so certainly they are going to be exposed to more reading opportunities,“ says Christine Colborne, an English teacher.

“You have to read through the websites,” Ashley says. “You have to read through the links and everything like that. So it does improve reading skills. And I think it improves vocabulary.”
But some experts warn parents to be cautious. Simply having online access is not a guarantee your child is learning.

“Many students are on the Internet simply in chat rooms. They are on the Internet looking up graphical material. They are looking up websites that are not text intensive where they are purchasing things or they are looking up pictures or downloading pictures,” Colborne says.

Ashley’s parents have set up filters on her computer that limit her access to inappropriate sites. Still, she says having the Internet at her fingertips at school and at home has opened a world of opportunities.

“I’m able to meet new friends, new people … to explore new subjects that I never knew about,” she says.

Tips for Parents

Another study by Michigan State University found that contrary to popular belief, spending time surfing the Internet can actually be beneficial to children. The study, which analyzed the Internet use of 120 parents and 140 children, found no negative effect on users’ social involvement or psychological well-being. In fact, researchers say that Internet use actually increased the children’s grade-point averages and standardized test scores.

As a parent, you are faced with the monumental task of monitoring the activities of your child in a world of virtually unlimited sources of information. One of the most expansive, confusing and frightening sources of information available to children today is the Internet.

You can take a number of steps to communicate the appropriate use of the Internet and other technologies to your child. The Cyber Citizen Partnership offers these tips for setting Internet limits for your child:

Be aware of your child’s computer skills and interests. Remember that it takes only a little knowledge to wreak a lot of havoc. Often, kids will develop technical skills and look for ways to challenge themselves.

Focus your child’s interests. If you recognize that your child is interested in exploring computer technology, you can reinforce positive behavior and encourage positive applications of this interest. Ideas include encouraging emailing with friends and family to become comfortable with appropriate and respectful online communication; recommending that your child adopt a position of responsibility in school as a computer monitor to assist classmates with computer use; fostering creative computer use by developing a personal or family website; or suggesting participation in school or community programs that teach in-depth technological skills or offer challenging technical opportunities.

Explore the Internet together. Ask your child to teach you about the Internet, visit educational sites, email questions and participate in online discussions together.

Take advantage of teachable moments. ­ When events or activities arise that provide the right time and place to do so, take advantage of these moments to help your child understand the issues involved in good cyber citizenship. For example, take time to read news articles about hacking or cyber crime incidents to your child and discuss the impact it has had on those involved. Use personal situations to frame the context of these discussions (e.g., ask your child how cyber crimes or irresponsible online behavior could affect friends and family). Address cyber ethics messages as your child conducts research online or shares his experiences on computers at school.

Cyber Citizen Partnership
Michigan State University
University of California-Irvine