Social Media is one commodity that keeps getting hotter and hotter – at home, at work and on the move!

According to the Pew Research Centre, during 2015 there were some 2 billion social media users worldwide, and of these 1 in 4 were teens in the USA between the ages of 13-17 who go online several times a day.

But Social Media is not a new concept.  Like all of our other communication processes, it has been evolving since the days of the Romans. [Tom Standage, Digital Editor of the Economist]. It is a communication path where social skills interact when disseminating voice and text information one-to-many in physical spaces like meeting rooms.

Social skills are a collection of unique unwritten cultural behaviors that are learned from parents, teachers, peers and life experiences, which means that they are not an exact science.  They are used to interpret voice tone and body language cues during face-to-face conversations.

Today, many of us over age 35 feel that evolving communication technologies have diminished the importance and development of social skills. This has resulted in a growing prevalence of poor language skills, online predators and cyber-bullies,  shallow relationships and a ‘me-me’ attitude among the younger generation.

Social Media – Paradigm Shift

At the end of the 20th century  Globalization coincided with the Digital Revolution.  This is when technology transformed how we interact socially, specifically in the way we share information with friends and family, conduct business and break news around the world.

In 2008 US President Obama was the first politician to use social media to campaign for the presidency – and he won!

The need for ‘instant’ connection to share information was the driving force – not interaction of social skills to interpret voice tone and body language cues!

To achieve this ‘speed’ of connection, niche virtual sites – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and others,  were built in cyberspace as platforms for sharing and exchanging information.  These virtual sites required:

– their own virtual communication channels for text, data, voice and videos

– lists of selected users for interconnecting through the virtual channels

– high-speed devices to support the instant connection to the virtual sites

‘Instant’ connections also meant:

(1) online availability 24/7

(2) no security of information unless encrypted

(3) ‘brevity’ of message limited to 140 characters

(4) ‘phonetic’ spelling with fewer capital letters and punctuation

To compensate for loss of the ability to effectively interpret voice tone and body language cues, Instant Messaging and Chat-rooms were created where information can be typed (not spoken) and electronic interactions attempt to  mimic an actual conversation.

Almost overnight, the same communication technology that connects instantly to individuals around the world, also makes it possible to stay connected yet never come face-to-face with any one of them for days or months – perhaps years!

Social Media Needs Social Skills

Children today face the same challenges as previous generations: bullying, teasing, peer-pressure, inappropriate content, privacy issues, and building relationships.

The exception is that the previous generations were taught social skills where they could observe and interpret non-verbal communication cues (voice tone, facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, personal space and other non-verbal communication cues) and interact within the context of what was being conveyed to build genuine relationships.

There is no denying that a significant number of teens between ages 13-17 are adept at using mobile technology,  and have become addicted to connecting to thousands over self-regulated social networking sites but many have developed poor social skills.

The terms social media and social networking sites are used interchangeably but they are not the same.

Social media (paths) and social networking sites (platforms) are meant to relate and interact with social skills (cultural cues).

Social media does not replace social skills.

Social Skills can be taught.

Social Media Challenges Parents

Social media and digital technology are here to stay and will continue to evolve.

While most parents are aware that social media sites require a minimum age of 13 to own an account, some of them have not been familiarizing themselves with the appropriateness of what is exchanged over the unregulated social networking sites.  Nor have they taught their children the unwritten rules of social behavior!

Ever since children discovered that smart phones with keyboards, touch screens and cameras always set in ready-mode were capable of making more than emergency calls, they remained connected to the networking sites 24/7.

They love to play games, watch videos, listen to music, shop online or simply stay connected 24/7 as anonymous users in isolated virtual environments.

It is now common for teens (especially the shy and anti-social) to walk around, sit or stand with their heads down, connected to social networking sites, tapping their thumbs on screens or keyboards and avoiding any face-to-face conversations!

According to LA Times (November 2015) teens now spend a quarter of the day looking at screens.

However, social behavior cannot be learned from ‘screens’.

Some studies show that those children who understand social skills are less likely to fall prey to the vulnerability of online predators and cyber-bullies.

Your greatest challenge is to commit to life-long learning to keep abreast of communication technology.  This will enable you to evaluate the health of social networking sites and your children’s social skills.

Limit the time children are exposed to social media, encourage them to join groups where there will be face to face interaction.

Inaction on your part could see us living in a future world that is controlled exclusively by technology instead of us controlling technology.  And this would be a terrible failure on your part.

You cannot learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication.  If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication you could be losing important social skills.  We are social creatures.  We need device-free time. (Yalda Uhls)

Here are some excellent resources to help teach children to understand unwritten social rules:

  1. 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills by Lawrence E Shapiro, Ph.D.
  2. Social Rules for Kids: The Top 100 Social Rules Kids Need to Succeed – by Susan Diamond.
  3. The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friendsby Natalie Madorsky Elman, Eileen Kennedy-Moore.
  4. The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole.

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