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Growing up social in a digitally connected world

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SALT LAKE CITY — More and more kids, at younger and younger ages, are using social media; and for parents that can bring on frustrations and anxiety. But research shows the technology can also benefit your kids.

So how do you control social media and not let it control your family? Two Utah families shared with KSL News the things they're doing to make sure their kids are well-connected online.

A tech-savvy family

We visited the Johnsons' home on what was a typical night for the family of seven. It was a very quiet night, albeit the chime of a text message now and then.

Everyone in the family had some kind of device, some more than one at a time. Even 8-year-old Easton is a Minecraft master and 10-year-old Josie is already an efficient blogger.

The world moves really fast. They have to keep up.

–Veronica Johnson, mother

"I use it kind of as a journal ‘cause it's private," Josie said.

It's safe to say they've embraced technology. Mom is a virtual assistant, and dad live tweets his sons' football games. Everyone but the youngest two is on social media — and it all starts before breakfast.

"Wake up, (and) if you have time you check Facebook, see if people have texted or called you," Spencer Johnson said.

Kids today are more connected than ever. A study from LMX Family shows 42 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 12 have visited a social media network; 29 percent have a page of their own.

But most social networks require participants be over the age of 13 to join.

Josie and Easton can't join until they are older, and the other kids' pages are frequently monitored. But mom, Veronica, and dad, Kevin, can see the benefits in "growing up social."

"The world moves really fast. They have to keep up," Veronica said.

"Easton, at 8, is ahead of where I was when I entered college, honestly," Kevin said.

Share your thoughts
What do you do to help your kids stay well-connected without being overrun by social media and technology? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page.

Studies have shown connecting with peer groups online is actually a good developmental tool.

"There are actually some positive results: kids who are shy tend to really benefit from Facebook. It is a way they can really develop their social skills and social competence in a way that is not so scary," explained Dr. Sarah Coyne, a professor of human development at BYU.

Coyne teaches a media and family class and has researched the benefits of social media. She's found it can help improve communication.

"They can practice at that, and just learn how to be in a friendship, or relationship, online and kind of take those skills into the real world," Coyne said.

While social media has its benefits, it also comes with concerns for parents.

"I think a big concern that parents have is that children are using media too much, and that they will get addicted to it," Coyne said.

So what would happen if the Johnson family was stripped of all their electronic devices and social media connections for a week?

Easton's not worried. "I don't know, I'd probably go to my friend's house and use it," he said.

The cyber-secure household

The McCown family is also well-connected online. But Dad's former occupation puts a twist on how technology is monitored in their home — he was once a government hacker.

"I've seen what bad guys can do in the real world, and I make sure that I put in protections to protect my children," Steve McCown explained.


"I guess if I did do something wrong, he would find it," said Robert McCown, Steve's 16-year-old son.

"Each of our kids have their own login to the computer, and with each login we can limit their Internet access," explained Alesha McCown, Steve's wife. "We can also limit when they get kicked off the computer, and they can't install anything without our permission."

The McCowns also have a "one-strike and you're out" policy.

"We strike out once, and then we are out of the Internet in this house until we turn 18," Robert said.

The McCowns may have tight controls, but they also embrace technology.

"There's many good things on the Internet; and so that's my job, is to make sure that my children can have those good experiences, look at good things on the Internet, be able to learn and access educational sites — and even good entertainment sites — but to keep them safe in the process."

The media saturation kids face is just going to keep increasing, and that is going to require good parenting in both the real world and the virtual world.

"The digital world is great, and it gives us so many benefits, but the real world matters in life," Coyne said.


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Jennifer Stagg


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