The Truth About Kids And Social Media

According to a recent study, 78% of parents helped create their children’s Facebook pages, and 7.5 million users are under the age of 13. The way your kids use social today will shape their future. It's time for everyone to get educated on how—and how not—to live online.

Kids and social media.

Most people cringe at the thought of these two terms used in the same sentence, and it falls into the same scary category of kids and drugs. Why?

We don’t like what we don’t know or understand. Parents don’t like the thought of their kids embracing social media because they don’t fully understand the benefits and dangers. In many cases, they also don’t understand the social platforms to their full extent. Education is key for the parents as well as the kids. Not to mention teachers! Everyone involved needs to understand the pros and the cons.

As most of us already know, there are clear downsides with kids using social media and this topic has been covered for years. Cyberbullying, privacy , and identity theft are only a few negatives that should be considered. Just as we teach our children how to ride a bike, we need to teach them how to navigate social media and make the right moves that will help them. The physical world is similar to the virtual world in many cases. It’s about being aware. We can prevent many debacles if we’re educated.

So what are the benefits of kids using social media?

This is where parents and educators need to think long term and recognize that kids are building a personal brand from an early age. Their digital footprint will have an impact on their future. Where they end up getting admitted to college, getting a job, and more. Social media will help connect them with like-minded individuals, including mentors, that share similar interests and aspirations that can help them achieve their long-term goals.

Here’s a scenario to consider. A few weeks ago, my team and I had 40 third graders come to the Digital Royalty office. They asked us questions and we asked them questions. When we asked how many of the third graders were either on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, more than half raised their hands. Facebook has a minimum age restriction of 13 years old to create an account. But according to Consumer Reports, last year 78% of parents helped create their children’s Facebook pages and 7.5 million users are under the age of 13 and lied about the age associated with the account.

After getting into a discussion with the third graders, we learned that several of them had abandoned their Facebook accounts because that’s where their parents were. They knew that the adult powers that be are a hop, skip, and a click away from monitoring the kid’s accounts on Facebook. The third-grade solution was to hop from Facebook to Instagram (which, ironically, Facebook also owns). In some cases, kids said they created new, rogue Facebook accounts where they connected with their friends and used their old ones as a decoy for parental supervision.

Admittedly, this is not formal research and not all third graders are using social media. However, if a substantial portion of third graders have embraced this new form of communication, what does that mean for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders? Are they seasoned pros at selfies? (And if you’re unaware of what a selfie is, I rest my case.)

Fast forward 8-10 years and the same children are now graduating from high school, or they’re preparing to, and they’re applying for colleges or jobs. Everything they’ve posted online for the past decade is searchable, and social media only amplifies what already exists, both strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine a college admissions recruiter evaluating two applicants side by side. They both look the same on paper. They shine academically, with impressive transcripts, essays, and SAT scores. Both have an extensive list of extracurricular activities and outstanding recommendation letters.

The difference is Applicant A has a large social following of Twitter followers and Facebook friends which they’ve used proactively to connect with future professors, industry leaders, and executives at companies. They’ve already built a network of people who they are sharing valuable content with, allowing their strengths to shine. You are able to get a genuine understanding of the applicant by seeing how Applicant A engages with their followers and posts about the issues he/she is passionate about.

Applicant B may have a social media presence (what college-age kid doesn’t?), but never took the time to fully develop it and turn it into an asset by having a "neutral" (read: a non-keg-stand) avatar photo, removing inappropriate language, and posting information that spotlights passions and strengths.

As the college admissions recruiter, you can only choose one. Who would you choose? In this case, Applicant A’s wise use of social media gives him/her an edge over an otherwise perfect Applicant B.

Why? Universities want to recruit the students that they believe will best represent the university, both online and offline, while in school and beyond. Students with a robust social media presence and clearly defined personal brand stand to become only more influential. These students are positioned to become leaders in their respective fields, which will reflect positively on the university social communication word of thumb. Additionally, the recruiter has full access to who the applicant associates himself or herself with by who they’re following and engaging with. It’s a sneak (organic) peek into the life of the applicant.

The scenario remains the same for job applicants. When choosing between two similar applicants, hiring managers are increasingly turning to social media outlets to supplement information they are unable to glean from applications or interviews. Many companies use social channels as screening tools. According to a recent study conducted by the Society Of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 77% of employers use social media to recruit candidates. Additionally, they can get a sense of cultural fit within the organization and identify red flags that may include inappropriate posts or even a candidate who is bashing a previous employer.

So now that we know education is key, many parents ask us at Digital Royalty, what’s the first step? Similar to how we begin the education process with executives of brands, sit down with your kids and ask them what they know. Do an informal assessment and study their proficiency. Hop on the computer and mobile phone to evaluate their proficiency and better understand what they know. You might be surprised. Then, after you’ve educated yourself, educate your children.

Amy Jo Martin is the founder and CEO of Digital Royalty, a social media and education company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and of Digital Royalty University. In 2012 her book Renegades Write the Rules made the New York Times Best Seller list. Follow her on Twitter at @amyjomartin.

[Image: Flickr user Lupuca]

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