The internet and social media provide young people with a range of benefits, and opportunities to empower themselves in a variety of ways. Young people can maintain social connections and support networks that otherwise wouldn't be possible, and can access more information than ever before. The communities and social interactions young people form online can be invaluable for bolstering and developing young people's self-confidence and social skills.
The use of social media and networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have become an integral part of Australians’ daily lives. While many associate social media with a degradation of young people’s social networks and communication skills, a literature review published by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre found that social networking services actually play a vital role for in young people’s lives - delivering educational outcomes; facilitating supportive relationships; identity formation; and, promoting a sense of belonging and self-esteem. Read the review here.
In collaboration with young people, we’ve documented some of the positive benefits of internet and social media for young people.
Social networking services can provide an accessible and powerful toolkit for highlighting and acting on issues and causes that affect and interest young people. Social networking services can be used for organising activities, events, or groups to showcase issues and opinions and make a wider audience aware of them. E.g. Coordinating band activities, fundraisers, and creating awareness of various causes.
Social networking services can be used to hone debating and discussion skills in a local, national or international context. This helps users develop public ways of presenting themselves. Personal skills are very important in this context: to make, develop and keep friendships, and to be regarded as a trusted connection within a network. Social networking services can provide young people with opportunities to learn how to function successfully in a community, navigating a public social space and developing social norms and skills as participants in peer groups.
Social networking services rely on active participation: users take part in activities and discussions on a site, and upload, modify or create content. This supports creativity and can support discussion about ownership of content and data management.
Young people who use social networking services to showcase content - music, film, photography or writing - need to know what permissions they are giving the host service, so that they can make informed decisions about how and what they place on the site.
Users might also want to explore additional licensing options that may be available to them within services - for example Creative Commons licensing - to allow them to share their work with other people in a range of ways.
Social networking services are designed to support users working, thinking and acting together. They also require listening and compromising skills. Young people may need to ask others for help and advice in using services, or understand how platforms work by observing others, particularly in complex gaming or virtual environments. Once users have developed confidence in a new environment, they will also have gained the experience to help others.
Social networks encourage discovery. If someone is interested in certain books, bands, recipes or ideas, it's likely that their interest will be catered for by a social networking service or group within a service. If users are looking for something more specific or unusual then they could create their own groups or social networking sites. Social networking services can help young people develop their interests and find other people who share the same interests. They can help introduce young people to new things and ideas, and deepen appreciation of existing interests. They can also help broaden users' horizons by helping them discover how other people live and think in all parts of the world.
Online spaces are social spaces, and social networking services offer similar opportunities to those of offline social spaces: places for young people to be with friends or to explore alone, building independence and developing the skills they need to recognise and manage risk, to learn to judge and evaluate situations, and to deal effectively with a world that can sometimes be dangerous or hostile. However, such skills can't be built in isolation, and are more likely to develop if supported. Going to a social networking service for the first time as a young person alone can be compared to a young person's first solo trip to a city centre, and thus it is important for a young person to know how to stay safe in this new environment.
Managing an online presence and being able to interact effectively online is becoming an increasingly important skill in the workplace. Being able to quickly adapt to new technologies, services and environments is already regarded as a highly valuable skill by employers, and can facilitate both formal and informal learning. Most services are text based, which encourages literacy skills, including interpretation, evaluation and contextualisation.