social networking has in the last couple of years stirred a lot of debate among politician and scholars alike. The level of risks and benefits associated with social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace especially to children and teenagers has elicited a mixed reaction among the debating parties. In this paper we present a systematic analysis of the implications of social networking sites for both children and teenagers with a sharp focus on Facebook. We also focus on the benefits as well as the issue surrounding the use of social networking sites by use of relevant illustrations. Overall, we evaluate how the use of computer technology has impacted the society in general and education in particular.
Definition of Social Networking
Several scholars have attempted to define the concept of social networking and its components. Boyd & Ellison (2007) define social networking sites as special web-based services that are developed in order to allow the users to construct either a public or partially-public profile within a system that is bounded. The services are also to display the list of other site users with whom the individual shares a connection. The other element of a social networking site is that is displays a list of all the connections which exists within the bounded system. Techtarget (n.d) defines social networking as the practice of increasing the number of business as well as social contacts that one has through the making of appropriate connections with different individuals.
How social networking sites' operation are based on the concept of six degrees of separation an idea that suggests that any two individuals on the earth could contact each other through a chain comprising of more than 5 intermediaries. The social networking site establishes highly interconnected online communities that aid the members of the community to easily contact each other even without the need of real physical contact.
The implication of social networking sites on the children and the society.
The last couple of years have seen the number of social networking sites skyrocket from activities by a few interested individuals into one that engages several million users. The rapid and exponential growth of the social networking site popularity and functionality has resulted in several concerns from parents, teachers and government agencies. These concerns are mainly on the potential risks that these social networking sites pose to the children and teenagers who blindly leave a trail of personal information in the public domain without knowing the consequences of such actions (Lenhart & Madden, 2007)
A close analysis of the statistics of social networking sites' consumption by the children and teenagers clearly illustrates the impact that these sites could have on the society and on the educational system. Below is a summary of the recent finding by Pew Internet Project in 2006 (Lenhart & Madden,2007);Fifty five percent of teenagers who engage in online activities have created at least an online profile for themselves on sites like Facebook and MySpace. Sixty six percent of the teenagers who have online profiles do believe that their online profiles are never visible to the entire internet communities. They highly limit the level of access to their profiles. About forty eight percent of teenagers make daily access to the social networking sites or visits them often. Another twenty six percent make daily visits while twenty two percent make several visits a day. The PEW research further indicated that older teenage girls of ages (15-17) were more at likely to be users of social networking sites.
Social networking sites like Facebook gives members a chance to keep in touch with their friends and family via the internet backbone. The members are given a chance to perform live chats, post messages to each other, engage in online interactive games and share pictures. The popularity of the social networking site, Facebook in particular, has grown exponentially to more that 500 million user's worldwide (Facebook Press Room, 2011). According Corbett (2010) nearly ten percent (40 million) users of the popular social networking site Facebook are school going teenagers. These teenagers are at greater risk when compared to other Facebook users due to their naivety and general experience is matters of risks. The effects of peer pressure makes the teenagers a particularly vulnerable lot since according to them, social networking sites like Facebook are an extension of their social and academic life that is never governed by school and parent rules.
The risks associated with Facebook usage by teenager there are several risks that teenagers expose themselves to when they engage themselves in unmonitored use of Facebook, the popular networking site. What is worrying is that the teenagers as well as their parents and teachers are largely unaware of the risks that the social networking sites pose to their lives (Henderson et al., 2011).Henderson et al., (2011) further pointed out that the legal risks that Facebook posses to teenagers are significant. They include; The breaching of the contractual Terms of Services (ToS) unknowingly, infringement of copyrights, confidentiality, privacy and disclosure, risk of defamation law suits, participation in activities that are considered criminal acts such as online harassment, handling and distribution offensive information (material) and identity theft. Before delving further into the issues of social networking sites, it is appropriate to first handle the potential benefits of using social networking sites by teenagers.
Benefits of using Social Networking Sites like Facebook
Despite the serious legal risks and negative effects of using social networking sites like Facebook, there is a growing list of literature to suggest that social networking sites have a positive impact on the lives of the users. Tynes (2007) noted that it is a great mistake to prevent the participation of adolescents in online social activities. She noted that the benefits of their participation (educational and psychological) outweigh the perceived dangers that are associated with their usage.
The educational benefits of social networking sites and activities
The adolescent participation in social networks has been observed to help them in the learning process by reinforcing and complementing the ideas that they are taught in the conventional classrooms (Tynes, 2007).The social networking environment trains them on how to effectively develop their individual critical thinking as well as improving their skills of argumentation. Tynes (2007) pointed out that this training is informal and is delivered via peer activities. Teenagers can use the social networking sites to help them in completing their homework and also to sort advice on various educational issues. Facebook for example can be used to set up an online discussion group to discuss various academic matters and subjects. Video games have also been shown to help adolescents in developing their cognitive skills like analog representation and spatial visualization (the ability to identify images).These skills are very crucial to the teenagers for the improvement of their performances in mathematics, arts, music and mathematics. It is worth noting that we deduce by proxy, that online video games have the same effects on the adolescents even though no formal study has been conducted to directly link the online video games with academic performance.
Social networking environment has also been shown to offer the participants an informal learning environment in which they experience both interracial and cross-cultural interactions. Due to social networks children and adolescents are most likely to interact with people from different cultures and races. Greenhow (2008) noted that the educational benefits of social networking sites are numerous. They ranged from the acquisition of new skills in technology, creativity as well as the opening of improved and diversified views. It also enhances their communication skills.
The social benefits of social networking sites
The online social networking environment can give the teenagers and children a chance to explore their identity as well as provide then with a platform for developing their social cognitive skills. These skills include the airing of their perspective, exploring the concept of social support, improving their intimacy and realizing and exercising autonomy. He participation in online communities and interactions allow the teenagers a chance to constantly reflect on who they are and their role in this society. It gives them a chance to evaluate and realize their strengths as well as weaknesses as pointed out by Greenfield, Gross, Subrahmanyam, Suzuki, & Tynes ( 2006). This in turn helps them to learn to live in this world. Research indicates that the brain of an adolescents in a part called frontal lobe is not fully developed as pointed out by Ortiz (2003). The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that is tasked with thought prioritization, abstract thinking, consequence anticipation impulse control and planning. The frontal lobe undergoes most of its maturation during the adolescent years and is the last part of an individual's brain to completely develop as pointed out by Sowell, Thompson, Tessner, & Toga (2001). Participation in online social networking activities can help in the development of the frontal lobe since it provides the teenagers with a chance experiment with new ideas and in the process enhance their ability to…