Social Media – a win/win/win for parents, non-profits, and education

Remember this?

This Is Your Brain On Drugs.  Just Say No.  These television ad campaigns from the 1980s were oft-criticized and parodied, but also credited with a decrease in drug use among kids.  No doubt, they cost millions of dollars too.

American Cancer Society is on to something cool, budget-friendly, and potentially far more effective.  I handed my 11-year-old a Flip video camera and asked her if she’d like to make an anti-smoking commercial for the quitting smoking channel.  She jumped at the chance, and here’s the result with no involvement from Mom:

It’s not fancy, but it did show her proud mama that she gets the dangers of smoking.  Plus, the act of making the video captured her attention far longer than a 30-second TV spot ever could. Imagine the power of hundreds of such videos done by kids, for kids, and uploaded to the ACS site – positive peer pressure going viral.

Thanks to established credibility and goals that benefit society, non-profits have an opportunity to counteract negative perceptions about social media and kids. There is a huge difference between the monitored, mission-oriented site and the anything goes atmosphere of YouTube. My guess is that technophobic parents and educators will more readily consider social media projects sponsored by well-known organizations. Plus, kids are natural do-gooders who have time, technological tools and know-how. Provide safe outlets for their positive energy, and they will participate.

I would love to hear from non-profits using or considering the use of social media to engage youth in promoting positive social missions.  Ideas?  Thoughts?  Potential stumbling blocks?

In the meantime, I have some suggestions for parents who want to encourage kids to use social media for good:

  1. Don’t wait until they are teenagers.  They won’t be as receptive and will likely be running circles around you technology-wise.  Direct kids toward healthy use of media while they are young, and you will set the stage for positive involvement in later years.  I helped my pre-teen start a blog.  Sure, one of her regular features is "things mom says that annoy me," but she gets an outlet for her adolescent angst, and I get a window into her feelings, accessible by desktop.
  2. Go over the safety rules and keep the dialog open.  The horror stories are highly publicized, but Internet stranger danger isn’t much different from stranger danger on the streets.  Direct kids to well-policed sites.  Tell them not to use their full names, locations, schools, etc. when they publish on-line.  If you follow rule 1 and guide them when they are young, you get the added benefit of supervising everything they are doing.  When trolls, spam, or other offenders pop up, they provide fodder for those golden "teachable moments."
  3. Provide the equipment.  Many kids have digital cameras, ipods, etc.  One relatively inexpensive tool to add to their media arsenal is a Flip camera, which is what my daughter used to create her anti-smoking video.  For $99, kids can become documentarians, advertising executives, filmmakers.  Creativity unleashed.  If a Flip is outside of your budget, encourage the PTA to purchase one for the classroom, and volunteer to help with class projects.
  4. Point them in specific directions.  Guide kids toward positive activities like an anti-smoking video for, producing commercials for band or theater performances, or writing a school news blog.  Make sure there is an adult to supervise and review what gets published.

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