As an avid online networker myself I would never discourage my children from using social media. I think so much can be gained from talking to people around the world – or in the same suburb – to extend your knowledge, share your interests or challenge yourself.
But I would definitely put a time limit on the amount of time they spent networking online so they get to experience a bit of real life – talk to their parents and sibling, breathe air outside the room housing the computer and have real friendships. Obviously with Noah aged three and Ethan still a baby this is an issue I won’t be considering again for a while, but the inaugural Festival of Dangerous Ideas at Sydney’s Opera House over the October Long Weekend got me thinking. One of the sessions included in the program is Baroness Susan Greenfield discussing Does Online Networking Harm Children’s Brains?
She argues that social networking could affect children’s brain development, by producing short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a dubious sense of identity.
Would the fast pace of social networking result in children thinking all relationships operate at the same speed? Noah already has a shocking attention span of pretty-much nil, so I definitely wouldn’t want it to be worse! I think it’s up to us as parents of this social networking generation to set a good example of what real-life relationships are and show how rewarding they can be.
I like surprises and I’m happy to delay gratification to have one, but will this generation of children never experience what it’s like to wait for something? When everything happens instantly on the screen in front of you, it is worth asking that question. As a child I had a pen friend (whom I’ve since reconnected with on Facebook) and I loved her hand-written letters, but I waited for weeks to receive those pink envelopes.
Instead, Noah and Ethan will have friends – possibly from around the world – with whom they who talk to via mobile, text, email, Facebook, MSN Messenger, the Internet or whatever communication device is available in a decade. I wonder what this instant communication will mean for communication in general – no more long walks along the river or beach like I love? Will my sons only communicate in a series of shortened mono-syllable words that make up 140-character messages – and only if they are communicating with the other person right then and there?
And this need of instant feedback extends to relationships too. Rescuing a character in a computer game leads to instant gratification – move on to next level, win points, win a prize etc. So what happens when there is no reward beyond making a new friend in real life – no prize, no moving on to next level, just having a friend? Will this generation have problems keeping friends as a result?
As I said, I would never deter my sons from using online networking because I think you can build further relationships and add new dimensions to existing relationships. However, I will be making sure they have one foot firmly planted in reality at the same time.
What are your thoughts on social networking? Would you/do you let your children use it?