Which Social Media Are Most Popular with Kids and Are They Healthy?

Do you know how popular Facebook or other social networking sites are among school-age kids? Consider these surprising statistics: More than 1 billion registered users are on Facebook, with 11 percent aged 13 – 17, and 29 percent aged 18 - 29. Sites like Google Plus and Tumblr are emerging from the shadows, with 400 million and 120 million users, respectively, and the percentage of younger users is close behind those for Facebook.

Check out some of today’s popular general-interest networks:

1. Facebook. This is one of the largest networks out there. It offers users age 13 and older with a convenient way to connect with one another, and it also has the capability for them to sell services or items.

2. Friendster. As a “social discovery and gaming platform,” it has over 115 million registered users.

3. Google Plus. With 400 million registered users, it is gaining in popularity. It is called a "social layer" because it is not just one site, but is a “layer” (or covering) for many other online offerings.

4. Instagram. Over 100 million users are on this photo sharing and social networking site. They can apply a digital filter to pictures and share them on several social media sites, including their own.

6. Pinterest. This social site has over 20 million registered users. They can “pin up” items online that they want to discuss and share with others in the network.

7. Tumblr. An international social micro-blogging site, it has more than 120 million unique visitors monthly, with over 13 billion page views each month in eight languages.

8. Twitter. This well-visited micro-blogging site (for sending “tweets” of 140 characters each) keeps some 200 million users in touch!

How Much Does Your Child Use Social Media?

Do you know how many "virtual" friends your child has online and who they are? How much time is he or she spending online using social media?

Recent studies show that kids aged 13 – 17 typically are on the Internet two hours per day, and 80 percent of that period is spent on social media sites. According to last year’s Consumer Reports, more than 7.5 million children below age 13 in the United States managed to get on Facebook, which requires users to be 13 or older to have an account.

Is Social Media Healthy for Our Kids?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that research has revealed that using many forms of social media routinely can help tweens and teens build communication, technical and social skills. Studies show that the number of pre-adolescents and adolescents using social networking sites has increased, with 22 percent of teens logging on at least 10 times a day, and 50 percent logging on once daily.

On the other hand, the AAP points out that to maintain a “healthy” presence online, children and teens need the adults in their lives to stay involved. The AAP encourages pediatricians, parents and teachers to help young people set boundaries. After all, the kids are using these sites at an impressionable age—before they understand the full impact on their privacy.

How Can Parents and Other Adults Help?

According to James P. Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media (and author of Talking Back to Facebook) and Chelsea Clinton, board member of Common Sense Media, pediatricians have an advantage in that they can encourage parents to be aware of their child’s social media use and guide them properly. They can make them aware that the online world in which young people are immersed may influence things like how their brains process information and how they develop multitasking habits.  Parents can have open discussions with their kids about how social media is just a reflection of public opinion or viewpoints, and empower them to develop their own viewpoints and make an impact on the “technology revolution.”

Guide Your Child towards “Healthy” Use of Facebook and More

When your child connects with virtual “friends” via Facebook or other social media, how do you know if that particular site is good for them? Some concerned leaders from Facebook got together with people involved with Edutopia (an initiative created by The George Lucas Educational Foundation) to look for answers and offer guidelines on proper use of social media for school-age kids.

Ideas from Facebook and Edutopia on “healthy” use of social media include:

1) Evaluate how social media is being used in your child's school environment.

2) Form a parent and/or school committee to monitor its use.

3) Check with other educational institutions in your area as well as your school district office to see its policies regarding social media.

4) Find out if your school district's attorney can get involved in this process.

5) Draft your own school’s guidelines, and have the school district’s attorney and parent committee review and approve them.

Further, educators can pick up and share tips and other information on how to use social media effectively for educational purposes, rather than for negative activities (such as cyber-bullying or gossiping) that have negative repercussions.

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