Technology and media are rapidly developing and have become a big part of our lives, so we all, no matter of age, gender, culture and locality, need to exploit their advantages in order to engage in lifelong learning. A part of this technological development is social media.
Social media are defined as “A group of Internet-based applications built on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). As it regards their accessibility and purpose they are described to be “The many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships”. (Murthy 2013). The free of charge and unconditional, in most cases, accessibility in social networks, the freedom of expressing your opinion and have your message heart in a global level, the unlimited by time and distance communication, as well as the convenience of being anonymous, are the characteristics that make social networks so popular and sometimes necessary for nowadays users.
Of course, these elements of social media could not have left children and youngsters untouched, who seem to spend much of their free time online. This engagement raised many dilemmas as it regards the inappropriate material and dangers lurking online, leading a large proportion of the population to adopt a protective or even prohibitive attitude towards children’s media usage. However, despite parental control applications and other limitations, such as age limits, latest survey showed that more than 38% of children under the age of thirteen have an account on one of the most famous social media. This brings media education, for both children and children’s care takers, as the solution for a safer and beneficial relationship between young people and social media.
Parents and educators need to appreciate the pedagogical and social role of the several activities in which children are involved in by using social media, such us communicating with friends and classmates, getting informed, sharing photos and videos, involving in public discussion, and playing games. All these activities engage users in an interactive social environment, which is appropriate for social and peer learning.
Moreover, children need to gain skills in order to handle the plethora of information that they are bombarded by. Young users need to think critically, actively distinguishing, conceptualizing, analysing, synthesizing, and evaluating information that they confront when being online.
Furthermore, there is the need for children to distinguish what kind of information and content is safe and appropriate to be published online, as well as to learn how to participate actively in society through media. Social media should be considered from young users as means of entertainment, but also as an interactive mean that can assist them in having their voice heart and contributing in social change.
As nowadays’ mediated society demands people to develop skills and abilities in order to succeed in the information age, encouraging children to interact with social media and providing media education would be the best way to teach young media users how to be protectors of themselves online.
The author Georgia Frysoulaki is a student in the international Master’s Degree Program in Media Education.
- Kaplan A.M. & Haenlein M., 2010. Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons 53 (1), 61
- Murthy, D. 2013. Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age. Cambridge: Polity, 7–8
- Guard Child. Protecting children in the digital age. http://www.guardchild.com/social-media-statistics-2/