Whereas social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube have a lot of benefits for young children, they also tend to expose them to a wide range of dangers and risks. A huge percentage of social interactions among young people take place via mobile phones and social networking sites. Close to 75% of teenagers have mobile phones, 54% of these teens regularly use their cell phones for texting, while 25% access social networking sites over ten times per day (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 800). A clinical report was released by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicating the benefits and dangers of social media for young children. Studies have shown that social media enhances communication among friends and families, but it also increases the risk of online harassment. Current paper critically analyzes the benefits and risks of online social networking sites for children.
Research studies have shown that social medial has become a routine activity that is engaging in different ways. Children and adolescents who use social media tend to benefit from enhanced social connection, communication, and technical skills. Social networking sites provide several opportunities including connection with friends and colleagues who share similar interests (Livingstone and Haddon 91). The studies of the previous five years have shown that the number of pre-adolescence and adolescence youth who use social networking sites has increased dramatically. More than 22% of teenagers access social networking sites more than ten times per day, and more than 50% of young people access social networking sites at least once a day. In addition, increased access to mobile phones, personal computers, and the Internet has facilitated exposure of young children to social networking sites. This implies that a huge percentage of youths in the current generation are going through emotional and social development under the influence of social networking sites.
The Internet is considered as one of the most commonly used media outlet among young children and teenagers. Studies have shown that children and teenagers aged between 8 and 18 years access the Internet at least once per day (Blackwell et al. 1). In addition, the amount of time spent on social networking sites tends to increase with age, rising significantly from childhood to adolescence. Young children aged between eight and ten years use computers approximately 46 minutes per day, while those aged between 11 and 12 years use them 106 minutes per day. Although the amount of time that is spent on online social networking sites is a crucial measure, it is important to investigate the content that children access online.
Young children who utilize social sites are able to develop self-regulation and acquire self-control skills as they create closer peer groups and move away from constant parental control. Children are also able to develop self-esteem and self-concepts which enable them to evaluate their self-worth in comparison with their peers (Blackwell et al. 2). Youth develops socially by establishing closer and more intimate relationships than it has been possible during their early childhood. Since young people spend a huge portion of their time with their classmates at school, they gain the competencies of “fitting in” with their age mates.
Social media is also considered an important platform for enhancing cognitive development. Transition from early and middle childhood to adolescence leads to a cognitive shift that is associated with a high level of cognitive reasoning. Young people are unable to discriminate between realistic, fictional, and probable media content that is applicable in real life. However, increased participation in social networking platforms enables children to acquire the ability of grasping cognitive thoughts and abstract ideas. Scholars argue that cognitive development of young children is a collaborative process that includes communication with their peers and adults and involvement in socio-cultural activities (Blackwell et al. 2). Social networking sites and the Internet in general enable children to develop and evaluate new identities in places that are safer compared to offline platforms.
Social networks enable users to advance emotional intimacies as well as strengthen offline relationships in the absence of external observers. The use of social networks for cognitive development is of huge importance since research studies have shown that young children utilize the online platforms in collaboration with their older peers. Children in the U.S. aged between 11 and 14 years spend a huge amount of their time using social media. In the UK, 38% of children aged between nine and 12 years have a profile on at least one of the several online platforms. Blackwell et al. (3) say that among 20 million youths who were active members of social networking media in 2010, 7.5 million children were aged less than 13 years. In addition, children aged between eight and ten years who are below the minimum age of 13 years in some of the social networking sites, say that they spend at least five minutes per day on these sites. If the youth uses these sites for such purposes, they are able to shape and develop their cognitive, emotional, and social development. In addition, there are some opportunities for young people to participate in activities that were usually reserved for teenagers and young adults.
Social networking sites enable young children and teenagers to accomplish several tasks online that are crucial to them offline. Such activities include maintaining close relations with family and friends, exchanging ideas, sharing pictures, and making new friends. Participation in the social media also provides young people with enhanced benefits that extend significantly to their self-view, and conception of the community and world in general (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 801). Social media enhances prospects for community engagement. Teenagers can engage in activities such as fund raising, volunteering and charity for local events, and use collective creativity via sharing and developing various ideas. Networking sites also enable young children and the youth to develop individual identity and ways of fostering distinct social skills. Young people become able to expand their online connections by sharing similar interests with other people of diversified backgrounds. This enables the youth to develop tolerance, respect, and increased discourse about global and personal issues.
The use of social networking sites exposes young children and youths to a wide range of problems. These challenges can be classified into three broad groups, which include lack of a clear understanding of issues concerning online privacy; inappropriate content, and external impacts of third-parties mainly advertising agents (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 801). Although scholars have analyzed the positive impact of social networking sites on children, research studies have shown that there are potential negative impacts that can affect children. The Internet has become a platform that is increasingly dangerous for children and teenagers who share their personal information via online sites. Online sites expose young children to sexual predators who use tricks and lies to gain the trust of juveniles and consequently engage in sexual molestation and other forms of abuse (Wolak et al. 111). Internet sexual crimes tend to involve children and adults in a model that fits statutory rape. Adult offenders can use social networking sites to develop relationships with children and teenagers and seduce them for pedophilic child molestation of forcible sexual assault. This is a serious risk that calls for a different form of control and prevention compared to putting emphasis on parental control.
Public and private agencies have offered a public campaign to sensitive adults and the youth on the risks of posting personal information on online platforms. When this information is accessed by potential offenders, it can lead to abduction and sexual assault. Studies have also shown that pedophiles are exploiting new ways and creating networks that can be used to take advantage of vulnerable children through social networking sites. Wolak et al. (111) such as Facebook and MySpace have often been used as victim directories by sexual predators. Young girls tend to innocently provide personal information and identities in their online platforms and this is a sure way of increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.
Another negative impact of social media is that it exposes children to online harassment and cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is considered a deliberate use of online platforms to communicate embarrassing, false, or hostile information concerning other individuals. Basically, children lack the capacity to protect themselves from online harassment, which can lead to profound psychosocial outcomes such as depression, severe isolation, anxiety, and even suicide (Wolak et al. 112). Over the years, children have gained increased access to the Internet, with most houses in developed countries having access to computers and Internet connection. In addition, children use these platforms in privacy and this increases the risks of online harassment.
Basically, an important aspect associated with social networking sites is what is currently known as “sexting”. “Sexting” refers to sending, forwarding, or receiving sexually explicit or nude photographs, images, or messages via computers, mobile phones, and other digital devices. Research studies have shown that this issue has become a common phenomenon among young people and teenagers, with recent report indicating that 20% of youth have either sent or received seminude or nude materials of themselves (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 802). In this regard, teenagers who have been involved in “sexting” have been charged or threatened with child pornography and felony charges. Nevertheless, some states have argued that such behaviors should not be categorized as juvenile-law misdemeanors since such children are usually under pressure to fit into activities that are influenced by peer pressure. Past studies have also shown that students who participate in “sexting” face a number of consequences, which include suspension from school, while some perpetrators may suffer from emotional distress (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 802). In addition, the victims of these acts tend to undergo expressive grief and may start suffering from different health conditions which may complicate the ability of his/her family to provide adequate treatment. “Sexting” can be considered as a relatively new type of misdemeanor but it has severe consequences when the pictures that are speared over the Internet continue to resurface during the course of the school term. Such incidences tend to affect the confidence of a young child and his/her ability to relate effectively with peers.
Lastly, researcher studies have shown that social networking sites expose young children to a new phenomenon that is known as “Facebook depression”. In this case, depression is considered as a turmoil that develops among young children and teenagers when they post a huge amount of their personal information on social sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and then begin to exhibit unique expression of depression. It is important to note that preteens and teens place huge emphasis on the kind of acceptance and the amount of time they spend contacting their peers (O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson 802). This implies that an individual who feels as if he/she has been locked out by his/her group of friends may develop signs of withdrawal and depression. The intensity of social networking sites is considered a major factor when it comes to triggering depression among young children and adolescents. Just like the attributes of offline depression, scholars say that preteens and teens that undergo Facebook depression are at a major threat of isolation. They may ultimately seek help on risky and inappropriate Internet blogs and sites which promote substance abuse, self-destructive or aggressive behaviors, or unsafe sexual practices.
This document has critically analyzed the benefits and drawbacks of online networking for children. From the above analysis, it is evident that there are several benefits that social networking sites can offer to young children. However, these benefits are also associated with a number of negative impacts which may destroy the well-being of a child if they are not controlled in an effective manner. Studies have shown that social networking sites enhance cognitive development of young children. Children tend to form close social groups where they can share personal abilities and interests. Moreover, the sites enable young children to evaluate and determine their individual self-identities and the role they play among their peers. This enables the youth to share ideas on ways of developing their skills in relation to new ideologies and technology that have been developed. Nevertheless, irrespective of several benefits of social networking sites, studies have shown that young children can be exposed to sexual exploitation from pedophiles. Young children who display their personal information in the online sites attract the attention of potential sexual attackers. In addition, social networking sites may promote cyber bullying and sexting, in which case a child can suffer from degrading information being widely distributed across the Internet. It is of immense importance for parents to monitor the content that children access on social networking sites.