With Internet social groups becoming more mainstream, parents may wonder if these online interactions influence their kids in any way. Children are often highly influenced by those around them, including family and friends. The more time kids spend interacting online, the less time they engage face to face. Concerned parents should know which activities their children are involved in online, particularly if they notice any behavior changes.
Some social groups encourage positive behavior and a feeling of inclusion. For children who are dealing with their parents' divorce or are victims of bullying, interacting with supportive peers helps them through these tough times. Many kids don't feel comfortable expressing themselves to a parent, so having more anonymity in their connections may foster confidence. For children with special needs, being able to connect with other kids can be a boost to their self-esteem. There are social groups for children with a range of disabilities, from learning to physical ones. Some groups have local meetings, and being able to meet friends face-to-face can have a positive impact on a child who may otherwise feel isolated.
Some social groups are a negative influence on children, particularly when bullying is involved. Bullying can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, poor grades, low self-esteem and even health issues. Cyberbullying can be done around the clock, versus in-school bullying, which only happens during the day, and it's often done anonymously. Kids who are on either end of this type of online interaction suffer negative effects. Even children who may not engage in this type of behavior in person may be influenced by peers in their Internet social group.
It's important for parents to maintain a rapport with their children, even during the most difficult times. Parents may not realize they do have an effect on their kids' behavior when it seems children are only interested in communicating with others their age. However, continue to stay involved in your children's lives. Ask questions about where they go online. Gently suggest safe online sites, especially ones you feel have a positive influence.
To keep kids as safe as possible online and to encourage more positive interactions instead of negative ones, parents can send their children to child-directed websites. Adults also should consider having a profile at sites their kids frequent; it's one way to monitor their behavior over the Internet. Keep an eye on warning signs that your children are being negatively influenced by social groups as well.