Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Social Media & the Modern Parent

(this article orginally appeared in the 3/1/11 edition of the Monmouth Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting column)

     I recently took a personality test that revealed I am a contrarian. That is, regardless of what the majority thinks, I have the need to prove for myself what’s valuable. The entire world could overwhelmingly agree on any subject but initially I would be leery.
     This is why I only recently jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon. That‘s right. I tweet (words I honestly thought I would never say)!
     Lest Twitter feel rejected, however, it’s worth mentioning that I was also one of the last ones in my circle of friends to join Facebook. If I’m to be totally honest I would hesitantly admit that I really only joined Facebook to see who my husband was so busy friend-ing.
 Clearly this is an article for the modern parent.

Loving or hating social media is irrelevant today. It has become a crucial form of modern society’s communication. You can't argue with the numbers. Facebook reports it has 500 million users using its site 700 billion minutes a month. When I joined Facebook two and a half years ago it was primarily to keep in touch with long distance friends. Now I get the weather, coupons, breaking news, recipes and movie trailers through my account.
     It's that exact evolution that has my attention today. While I have been on Twitter for a little over three weeks, joining its 200 million other users, I have discovered a vast, possibly infinite, wealth of information.
     Granted not everything on the internet is good. I understand just because something is posted online doesn't make it true. Nonetheless I am amazed at what a valuable tool social media has become.
     For example, just this week I attended a webinar promoted by a blogger I friend-ed on Facebook. I got so much valuable information in the session that I retweeted some of the key points which increased the number of my followers and hits to my site.
     I'm aware that if you are not into the whole "online experience" the above paragraph might as well be written in a foreign language. For that I am sorry, but it's not my fault. It is the way modern communication is evolving. While we, the adults reading this article, still believe email is a modern way to communicate my fifteen year old daughter is scoffing. She has no email account because she doesn't need one. She gets all the information she needs in instantaneous texts, wall posts and IMs.
     Wall posts have proven to be an invaluable tool for local parents who've recently created a Facebook group. They plan student events and recently held a safety committee meeting with the superintendent of schools. No flyers, phone trees or mailed announcements. Information is literally flying around at the speed of light.
     Part of my responsibilities as a parent educator is to be a resource for parents needing information. Except that these days any mom or dad with smart phone can access the same information I can, and faster. Blogs and websites supporting new parents, expecting parents, parents of multiples, teen parents, parents of children with health needs, all exist. An entire virtual world is out there, just waiting to be accessed, to run me out of a job.
     Despite my own initial, immature motivation for being online I’ve since discovered that social media is an excellent way to share and gain information. I have used my Facebook inbox for parent consultations, to share YouTube videos in parent groups and to tweet encouraging quotes from my favorite early childhood experts.
     Say what you want about social media and how it is changing our methods of communication the fact remains that it is driving this culture. Despite its negative attributes, I have unequivocally found that if wielded properly the power of social media can be harnesses for good. Wanna get on board? Friend or follow me. Why? Because I’m a socially connected mom and I said so! That’s why!

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