Guest Post by Lynn Schreiber of Jump! Mag
Articles about children and the internet often concentrate on the dangers, but as a lover of online networking, I know that there are plenty of advantages. Obviously, knowing the ground rules, and discussing these with your kids should come first, but being online is not all posting selfies, and playing Minecraft! These six examples show just some of the huge range of positive ways that an online presence can be used to boost kids’ confidence and their mindset.
1. Allow Kids to Show off Their Talents
A YouTube channel is a brilliant way to show off what you can do. Elspeth was 12 years old when she made the above video, and her enthusiasm and knowledge of the product she was demonstrating shines through. This can be particularly confidence boosting for kids who have slightly more unusual talents or interests, which they can’t normally show off.
I was not keen on my kids having their own YouTube channel, but agreed under certain conditions – the channel is officially in my name, and via my email address, so that I can keep an eye on it, and monitor discussions. They are not allowed to upload videos without showing me first, and they have to stick to my rules. You can find more information on keeping kids safe on YouTube here.
2. Start a Blog about a Niche Interest
If your child has a niche interest, they may not have friends in school who share that interest. Use the power of social media to connect them to others, so that they don’t feel like an outsider. Tom is a huge fan of Dr Who, and started this amazing blog when he was just 8 years old. In the past years, he has attended countless Dr Who events, and met many cast and crew members. One of his golden questions that he asks is, “If you could go anywhere in time and space, where would you go?”.
Encourage your child to start a blog (again, with safety restrictions in place). Blogging is great for kids, because they have their own place, which they can design as they want, and really let their personality shine through. Find tips on starting a blog, and support from other kid bloggers at Kids’ Blog Club, a wonderful website run by journalist and writer Joanne Mallon.
3. Develop Career Boosting Skills
Ailsa loves football and journalism, and when she won the Jump! Mag ContiReporter challenge, she was invited to St Georges’ Park, the home of English football. She reported on the Women’s U17 European Championship, as a guest reporter of Continental Tyres. Her aim is to become a journalist, so she was delighted to have the opportunity to work with a professional camera team, and ask a question of her heroes, alongside professional reporters.
Where we’ve had to learn how to use the internet, our kids are growing up with it. Computer skills are going to become ever more useful in the future, so stopping them using the internet would be like stopping them learning to spell! Whether it is specific skills such as how to record an interview, as Ailsa learned, or more general skills such as being able to use social media safely and responsibly, get them started young and give them a kickstart in their future.
4. Get Political!
Maelo started her political blog, LibDemChild when she was 11 years old, and campaigns on a number of issues, including how cuts in services affect children and young adults. She’s been invited to speak at the Liberal Democrat conference, and has represented her party at various events.
Maelo told me that social media gives kids ‘a platform in which to freely express their views and to feel validated by online support, e.g transgender day of visibility yesterday provided many transgender youth with support, confidence and positive messages’.
5. Develop Their Own Style
Tolly has been blogging about fashion since she was just 11 years old, and has gathered quite a following! She’s developed her own style, and even works with companies to create products that reflect her fun take on fashion. On her blog, Tolly writes, “I also say to myself, that I don’t need to be on the FROW of LFW*, and I don’t need those sunglasses which most bloggers, have. I need to just be myself, and wear what I wear. I will get to the place I need to be, no matter how long it takes me.”
There are a lot of fashion and style bloggers on Pinterest and Instagram, and these sites are reasonably safe for kids. Particularly for kids who feel they are ‘different’, it can be really helpful to see that they are not alone. Children of colour can be inspired by bloggers who look like them, rather than relying on glossy magazines, with all white pages, and all children benefit from seeing women and men of all ages and body types.
*Front Row of London Fashion Week for those of you who (like me) have been out-cooled by a teen fashion blogger!
6. Share their Interests
Book lovers around the world are coming together online to share their enjoyment of literature. Book bloggers such as Amber and Lucy write and vlog about their favourite books, authors and genres. Lucy’s monthly chat #YAchat trends regularly on Twitter, and engages authors, readers, publicists and book publishers.
Amber told me, ‘through social media, I’ve had two jobs offered to me, both in the journalism category, and hundreds of people watch my videos and read my blog every day. Its an amazing feeling… Websites such as Twitter and Facebook can be time consuming, distracting and potentially dangerous, if not used properly, but they can also be key to grabbing amazing opportunities’.
The young people featured aren’t wasting time online; they are developing incredibly useful skills that will stand them in good stead in their future careers. They are learning to cope with negative feedback, to work through it, and not let it worry them too much. This skill isn’t just a handy one to have in their professional life, it also helps them in their private life. The positive feedback that they receive, both from their peers and from adults, gives them a massive boost in confidence. This can be particularly important for young women, who suffer from massive societal pressure, and are at risk of Imposter Syndrome.
I find the final comment from Amber to be very important. ‘If not used properly’, she states, these websites can be damaging. It is important to see these sites as tools, and it is up to parents and educators to teach our kids to use them wisely. I often liken this step to the one when I taught my kids to cross the road. At first, we crossed together, with me firmly holding their hands. Then I would let them choose when to cross, with their hand still clasped in mine. In time, I would let them go alone, watching from the side of the road, ready to step in. Finally, I knew that I’d taught them all I could, and it was time to let them go alone. It is scary moment for all parents, and allowing kids online is too.
We have to overcome the fear that we have, and allow our kids to develop their online personality, and to explore their virtual world.
Lynn Schreiber is a freelance writer, who specialises in the topics of parenting & social media. She blogs at Salt & Caramel, and is the founder and editor of Jump! Mag, an online magazine for preteens.