As parents, we often hear stories about the shadowy side of social media. Although problems can crop up, the networking tool can be instrumental in helping kids learn, connect, increase their awareness and grow into more mindful communicators.

Invite Creative Expression

Kids who have a passion for photography, art, video production, music or writing can use applications like blogs, YouTube and Instagram to express themselves.

           Maggie Pike, a college freshman, says she uses her Instagram page to post photos of world events and people of different cultures.

      “Social media can be a great source of creativity,” she says. “There are poems being posted, interesting questions being asked, or funny or cool videos being shared… Positive examples are everywhere, more so than the negative aspects of social media.”

TIP:  Discuss how your child will respond to any negativity that might come her way from Internet trolls or cyberbullies. Remove geo-locator tags from photographs and overly specific information from profiles. Establish privacy settings and remind your kids to make positive choices online.

Foster Purposeful Mindfulness

      “You start developing your personal brand identity as soon as you go online,” says Linda Buchner, president and co-founder of MindDrive, a non-profit workforce development organization that recruits students from urban Kansas City schools. The students, ages 13 to 19, choose to enroll in contemporary communications or automotive design.

      The communications team works in tandem with the automotive team, sharing the MindDrive brand through video production, marketing materials and social media.

      

In 2013, the students earned national attention when they programmed their futuristic-looking electric car to recognize social media connections. Fueled by social media likes, shares and hashtags, they successfully drove the car from Kansas City to Washington D.C.

TIP:  Encourage your child to practice her public speaking and presentation skills by creating video interviews, podcasts and SlideShare presentations on topics that interest her.

Channel the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Sandra Perez, 18, created her own YouTube channel featuring fashion and makeup demonstrations. Perez, who plans to pursue a degree in communications in the fall, now has over 1000 followers and has been approached by corporate sponsors.

      “It’s something she wanted to do anyway, to practice her public speaking skills, and now she has a professional site,” says Buchner, who hired Perez to work as her marketing intern.

TIP:  Whether your children like to watch Minecraft videos or pin craft ideas on Pinterest, monitor what they watch and post. Even if they delete their viewing history, you can see the types of videos they’ve been watching by reviewing YouTube’s recommendations.

Connect with Friends

Social media can give kids the  opportunity to meet peers who share their interests, and Buchner believes it can boost their confidence in face-to-face interactions.

“Sometimes really shy kids or kids who don’t have a lot of friends are more  comfortable finding friends through social media,” Buchner says. “It’s an opportunity to tread lightly and put yourself out there a little bit.”

TIP:  Balance out your child’s tech-use with “in-real-life” play dates and activities. Also, role model responsible device use, set consistent boundaries and establish digital citizenship rules.

Promote Awareness

“Students will constantly post different things that are going on that they are involved in. Maybe they received an award, won a sporting event or volunteered at Ronald McDonald House,” says Kim Urenda, a high school counselor.

      Social media allows for a deeper understanding of various cultures and world issues.

      “Positive uses of social media by our young people support social justice and advocacy for humanity, and social media provides them with an understanding of world issues in a very relevant way,” says Deb Woodard, University of Missouri-Kansas City School Counseling Coordinator.

TIP:  Show your kids sites that other young people have started, like FairED, that are healthy examples of positive social media use. Altruistic kids can complement tweets and posts about their campaign with video interviews and short informational clips to educate and share with their audiences.

Raise Critical Thinkers

      More educators are integrating social media into the classroom beginning in elementary school.

     

“Our biggest push is media literacy, educating students to question the motive behind what’s being posted,” Urenda says.

      Teachers also role model how to use platforms like YouTube, Skype and Twitter to connect with experts and bring textbook materials to life.

      “If you can see an ice castle in Siberia, then it makes it really interesting when you are reading about it,” says Sarah Pike, an elementary school principal. “And the kids thought it was exciting when we did some Skyping with a National Geographic tornado chaser.”

      Pike finds that interactive technology motivates students and makes learning relevant. Schools, she says, must stay current.

      “We are training kids for jobs that we can’t even foresee because information is changing so fast. They must be able to use these tools to communicate and collaborate.”

TIP:  After your next family vacation, invite your kids to make an iMovie with their favorite photos and videos, create a digital photo album, post a review of their vacation on a family blog, and/or post pictures on Instagram.

Some interactive sites & apps that promote creativity, learning and sharing:

• Create comic strips at MakeBeliefsComix.com.

• Interview and collect family stories with the StoryCorps.me app.

• Check out YouTubeKids, a free app offered by YouTube featuring videos, channels and playlists for younger children.

• Explore history in the collaborative community HistoryPin.org.

Christa Melnyk Hines

Freelance journalist, Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. She finds happiness in historical romance novels, sunny days and chocolate chip cookies. Christa is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life.