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When kids with LD Facebook

Children with learning and attention problems may blossom by using social-networking sites. Learn more about the potential benefits and risks for these kids.

By GreatSchools Staff

Social networking has become increasingly popular, especially among children and teenagers. Ninety-three percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are online, and more than half of them use social-networking sites, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Networking online offers kids many benefits but also carries a degree of risk. Reports of those dangers — and incidents that illustrate them — have been a hot topic in the media.

Parents are understandably concerned. Scott Moore, an online community manager, says, "Based on discussions on message boards, it's clear that parents are surprised and worried about the communication on MySpace and other social-networking services. They are worried about their kids' safety and how this medium can affect their social development, especially if their kids have learning and/or attention problems."

In this article, we will address the risks and benefits of social networking online for kids in general and, more specifically, for kids with learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). We will also explain how you can enhance your child's online interactions.

How do social-networking sites work?

Websites like MySpace and Facebook encourage people to create and share their own online identities and profiles, which can include personal information, photographs, blog entries, video, podcasts and music clips. Users can then share their information with other people directly and also by accessing even more people via the online networks of those individuals. From a technical standpoint, a social-networking site creates a virtual meeting place for people to connect and make friends.

New websites pop up every day. At this time, there are hundreds of sites that claim to offer some form of social networking. And, given the ever-evolving nature of the Web, even well-established sites frequently add, remove or change their features — sometimes making the sites safer, sometimes making them less so. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for operating a social-networking site, so parents need to check the sites their kids visit on a regular basis.

The benefits of social networking

With all the frightening stories about kids at risk online, is there any good news? Yes. In fact, there are many benefits for kids networking socially online. They include:

  • Practicing social skills. Kids get a chance to meet all kinds of people online. Because socializing via technology isn't as immediate as face-to-face interactions or telephone conversations, kids have a little more time to think about a situation before they respond. This is an opportunity for them to experiment with greetings, responses, etc.
  • Defined/guided social interaction. While online communication technologies increasingly allow for freeform interaction, social interaction can be narrowed (for purposes of scope and safety). Some examples of focused interaction online include buddy/friend lists, moderated themed chatrooms or message boards and, for younger children, the opportunity for parents to help a child by typing or reading along some of the time. This can help children build skills and confidence that will increase their independence as they mature.
  • Creating private social spaces. More public places are watched so closely by adults that kids (especially teens) feel they can't gather in groups without parents or other authority figures keeping track of them. Traditional hangouts like shopping malls are increasingly becoming off-limits to unsupervised teens. Similarly, the corner store, local pizza place and video arcade are becoming less inviting to kids who just want to hang out.
  • Identity experimentation. A child can create an online identity that is different from what he normally presents. For example, a kid who really likes comics can be the "king of all superhero knowledge" online without being teased about it at school. Such a child can also find a peer group online that appreciates this aspect of him.
  • Frequent use of existing and emerging/changing technologies. Technology is evolving faster than ever before. As children learn to adapt to new technologies (or new applications of existing technologies), they will be better equipped to adapt to future technology. This will help them quickly assess the risks of communicating through these new methods and adapt their behavior to maintain control over their own safety.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

12/19/2011:
"There are social networking sites that are specifically targeted towards kids that have all the safety precautions that parents want. One site in particular is www.kidssocialnetwork.com. KidsSocialNetwork.com has monitors and parents and law enforcement officials are also allowed to monitor the site. There is also an online library for kids to learn so there are some educational benefits. Social Networking for kids isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as it is on a site that is safe and secure for kids. "
01/15/2010:
"This is a GREAT article...I can't wait for the next one!"
03/19/2009:
"Yes, My son is dyslexic and he has found Facebook. It has opened up a new world for him. He can talk to his friends and spell words wrong. They don't care. He is writing and reading and doesn't think about it. I have total access so I can see whats going on. You as a parent must keep a close eye without being to involved. Dee"
01/29/2009:
"Extremely interesting and valuable. Thank you for posting this article. There are plenty of parental control products out there that work very well. I actually would suggest taking a look at Ez Internet Timer. No matter how much of a worry wart the parent is, this thing blocks Internet browsers, e-mails, file downloads using ftps, messengers really well. If anyone’s interested check out the site here: http://www.internettimer.net"
12/3/2008:
"The articles you present are very, very useful for me "
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