By Anne Collier
“Kids most likely to spend a lot of time texting and on Facebook, among other networking sites, may be more well-adjusted,” the Los Angeles Times reports, pointing to several new studies. The body of research on how kids use digital media is growing fast, and new articles in academic journals are confirming what we collectively already knew: that a child’s experience online is very much a reflection of the child’s real-life experience, not of the technology, which means that for most kids it’s a constructive experience. For example, the Times tells of 14-year-old L.A. 8th-grader Megan, whose mom, Donna, made being “friends” on Facebook a condition of Megan’s having an account. Donna “says she’s seen little to fret about – and much to cheer – on her periodic visits to her daughter’s Facebook page. The teen, who has scaled back a once all-consuming commitment to gymnastics, keeps in touch with friends and coaches from that phase of her life, as well as with current friends that Mills knows well.” It’s the kids who take risks in real life about whom worry is warranted, and they tend to take those risks online in less public places than social network sites – places like chatrooms, where they are looking for support and validation secretly in exactly the wrong places. This was shown in the Internet Safety & Technical Task Force report of 2009, which presented a full review of the youth-online-risk literature up to that point. The ISTTF report also “concluded that on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook and Friendster, strangers – let alone strangers seeking sex – are routinely locked out and readily rebuffed,” the Times reports.
Parents are an important part of the equation. The Times also cites the research of Sahara Byrne at Cornell University, who “has found that children who think they can go to a parent with a problem – any problem – are more willing to accept parental limits on their media use and appear to be less likely to seek out trouble online (for more on Byrne’s research, see “Soft power works better: Parenting social Web users”; also along those lines: “Parenting & the digital drama overload”).