If, as a parent of kids ages six to 16, you are not familiar with Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YoLo, Spotify or any of the other online or social-media sites your kids use, it may be time for a little research.
Fortunately, some of that research has been done and is summarized in an online publication called Raising Digitally Responsible Youth: A Parent’s Guide.
Easily found online and recommended by both the B.C. Parent Advisory Council and the Ministry of Education, the guide provides what you really need to know in 2021 to stay in the loop about the most popular online applications (apps) and trends.
The goal of this parent guide is to introduce the major social-media platforms and games that are either already being used or have the potential to be used by our children.
If there has always been something of a “generation gap,” online technology has the potential to widen that gap, especially when one of the generations has been raised in a world of online apps and social media and the other generation is still buying stamps and mailing letters, along with making the occasional tentative exploration into Facebook.
A 2021 Pew Research Centre survey project reveals that adolescents use social-media platforms as a conversation space or an outlet for self-expression. Adults generally use social media, if they use it at all, to maintain existing relationships with close friends and family.
Beyond that, kids are probably familiar with YouTube heroes like PewDiePie, Logan Paul, Jake Paul, iDubbbz and Filthy Frank, whose over-the-top humour, outrageous pranks and sometime marginally obscene content are featured in the five billion videos watched by someone somewhere every day.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, is a popular photo-sharing app with more than a billion monthly active users and no filters on the images shared.
Formerly known as “Musical.ly,” TikTok is the world’s most popular video-sharing social-networking application. It’s based out of Beijing, China, with the content is mainly composed of short videos synced to popular songs.
Snapchat is another popular site. Since its release in 2011, it has remained the most popular social-media application that our kids are using to communicate and share their digital lives with each other.
Snapchat is the de facto medium of communication for many students in grades 7 to 12. The main reason for its popularity is that it allows users to send disappearing photos that leave behind no evidence that might become part of the sender’s digital footprint.
Yolo, an acronym for You Only Live Once (still with me here?), is yet another free third-party application that is used within a Snapchat account. Users can add a sticker to their Snapchat Story that invites whoever has access to their story to give them feedback or ask them questions.
Other users are then able to respond to those questions anonymously, a feature that enables users to say whatever they want about anything or anyone without having to accept responsibility or face repercussions.
And we have not yet touched upon video games, about which there is both bad news and good news about content and age-appropriate usage.
The bad news is that research generally suggests that prolonged exposure to violent video games like Grand Theft Auto (graphic violence, sexual content, alcohol and drug abuse and strong language) can result in feelings of aggression, along with desensitization to violence and a decrease in an empathetic view of others.
The good news is that video games, especially those with parentally curated content, can provide a number of possible cognitive benefits, including improved hand-eye co-ordination, practice in visual-spatial skills, and using trial and error to problem-solve more often.
Minecraft, for example, is being used in classrooms to build skills such as collaboration, creative problem-solving, communication and systems thinking.
Contrary to some more “progressive” approaches to parenting, Raising Digitally Responsible Youth: A Parent’s Guide says that as adults, we are not our child’s best friend. Instead, as parents, we are responsible for ensuring our kids’ safety in both the offline “real world” and the online digital world.
The guide recommends that parents download new apps first and try them out — play around with them. If a child already has a social-media app or a game they have found somewhere, ask them to teach you about it.
And as far as online communication via social media is concerned, a good question for our kids to learn to ask themselves might be: “Is there anyone in the world you don’t want to read this? Then don’t hit send.”
Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.