‘Top 5 things parents should know about youth online’: Study

A literature review in Australia highlights the benefits of social media use to young people.

By Anne Collier

You know how realtors say it’s all about “location, location, location”? That may be useful in the online context too, but what I’m hearing in a little video interview with Jane Burns, CEO of Australia’s new Cooperative Research Center for Youth, Technology & Wellbeing (second one down on this page), is “conversation, conversation, conversation.”

See if you hear that too; here’s a transcript I did of Dr. Burns’s Top 5:

1. “Young people are experts in their digital world, so take the time to sit down with them and have a chat about what they’re doing online.
2. “Young people learn a lot through formal cybersafety education, but it’s equally important for them to learn informally, so give them the time and space to experiment online so they can learn to practice and keep themselves safe.
3. “Young people don’t differentiate between their online and offline worlds. The skills they learn to keep themselves safe at school or in their community directly translate across into the virtual world.
4. “It’s imp to skill yourself up around technology use. Take the time to experiment so you can realistically assess what young people are doing online and take the time sit down and talk to them about what they’re doing.
5. “It’s super important to have open conversations with young people. Have conversations about what they’re doing online as you would have conversations about what’s happening in their day-to-day school environment.

What they learned at the ‘Living Lab’

Burns’s points are based on a literature review on the benefits to youth of online social networking done by researchers at the University of Western Sydney, Murdoch University and the Inspire Foundation who are partners in the Cooperative Research Center. From the review and a “Living Lab” they set up so that young people could teach adults about social media and Net safety, they found that “young people are much better equipped to deal with online risks than adults assume,” that “young people themselves are the most valuable resource for adults concerned about the online safety of their children,” and that social networking has “significant benefits” to young people,” including enhancing their education; supporting their personal relationships; giving them safe opportunities to explore their identity; and increasing their sense of community and belonging.

Benefits of social networking

There are formal and informal learning benefits to social media use, according to the Young Adult Library Services Association. In a new report, YALSA lists some: Social media “provides an ideal environment for teens to share what they are learning or to build something together online”; “allows teens to receive feedback from librarians, teachers, peers, parents, and others”; “helps to create a sense of community (as do the physical library and school) and in this way are already aligned with the services and programs at the library and school”; gives young people “the opportunity to learn how to be safe and smart” participants; and prepares youth for their futures as they “learn valuable life skills” using these “tools for communication that are widely used in colleges and in the workplace.” Life skills include social, community and potentially civic engagement (which I’ll blog about soon); it’s only logical that practice in peer group or social network engagement can lead to greater civic engagement.

Informal as well as formal learning

In a 2009 survey of UK students aged 9-16, Britain’s National Literacy Trust found that use of social media “drives [children’s] enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries,’ the BBC reported. The Trust’s director told the BBC that the study showed conclusively that “the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills.”

“Facebook is the biggest educational property we have in kids’ lives now,” Mimi Ito, professor at University of California, Irvine, in an interview for the Hechinger Report. “Most of the learning we do is not in the classroom and more and more of that is happening through online communication and information access.” So schools can benefit from adopting and adapting these learning tools. [Ito is also co-author of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living & Learning with New Media, the result of a three-year examination of youth social-media use in home, school, and afterschool environments – see this helpful video interview with Ito (who’s also a parent) about what she and her colleagues learned over those three years.]

And there are also benefits to highlighting the benefits, the Australian researchers found in their lit review: “Maximising the benefits of social networking services and promoting internet and media literacy is likely to help young people manage many of the risks of online interaction, such as cyberbullying, privacy breaches and predation,” according to their press release. [See also education consultant Bernajean Porter’s rich resource list at “

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