Skip to main content

The upside of selfies: Social media isn't all bad for kids

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 4:38 PM EST, Fri November 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report: One in five teens says social media makes them feel more confident
  • 52% of teens also say social media helps their relationships with friends
  • Media outlets tend to focus on the negatives of social media, such as cyberbullying
  • Teens are also using social media for social good, experts say

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- I'll admit it right at the start: When I think about teens and social media, I immediately begin to tally up the negatives.

What good could possibly come from teens and tweens spending gobs of time on online networks, posting nonstop "selfies," some in rather suggestive poses, and often communicating with people they don't even know?

A running joke at home: My girls, ages 6 and 7, can't get iPhones until they're 40.

But then I chat with other moms, who always know best, and a picture emerges that social media is not always the scary enemy some of us might think it is for our tweens and teens.

Take the "selfie," for example, which if you haven't already heard has been named Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year for 2013. Really!

READ: Highlights of #CNNParents Twitter chat on teens and social media

Eileen Masio, a mom of two in New York, monitors her daughter Amelia's Instagram account 24/7. Yes, most of the posts are "selfies," but it's the comments that make her think there is also a positive to this nonstop engagement.

"I think just as damaging as social media can be, it can ... help to build self-confidence, too," said Masio, during a recent interview including her husband, 13-year-old Amelia and 8-year-old son William.

Talking to teens about social media
Schools to monitor student social media
New screen rules for babies and kids
Dangers of too much media?
Two arrests in bullying case

"When they post selfies, all the comments I usually see are 'You're beautiful,' 'You're so pretty,' 'Oh my God, gorgeous,'" said Masio.

Report: Teens say social media more positive than negative

In fact, according to a report last year by the nonprofit child advocacy group Common Sense Media, one in five teens said social media makes them feel more confident, compared with 4% who said it makes them feel less so.

In the survey of more than 1,000 13- to 17-year-olds about how they view their digital lives, 28% said social networking made them feel more outgoing versus 5% who said it made them feel less so; and 29% said it made them feel less shy versus the 3% who said it made them feel more introverted.

READ: New screen rules for children from pediatricians

When it comes to relationships with friends, more than half (52%) of teens said social media has made them better versus just 4% who said it has negatively affected those relationships.

"On the whole, teens said that they feel that social media has a more positive than negative impact on their social and emotional lives," said Shira Lee Katz, Common Sense Media's director of digital media. "They believe that social media helps their friendships, makes them feel more outgoing and gives them confidence."

News outlets focus on the negative

The findings are likely to come as a surprise to most parents, including this writer, especially because most of what we hear about social media, especially in the media, are the negatives, such as how cyberbullying can turn tragic.

"For every heartbreaking case of cyberbullying, there are many stories of teens using social media for good," said Katz.

READ: Parents, beware of bullying on sites you've never seen

Rebecca Levey, co-founder of a video sharing platform for tweens ages 7 to 12 called KidzVuz, has seen it firsthand. During a special partnership with the Tony Awards earlier this year, kids were encouraged to either make videos singing parts of their favorite show tunes or talk about why theater was so important to them.

"The response from other kids was so awesome. I mean we had kids who were truly tone deaf and it didn't matter," said Levey with a chuckle. "Everyone's like, 'You're awesome,' 'Go follow your dream,' 'Don't give up.'"

Levey said another benefit is for kids who might feel slightly isolated to connect with other tweens and teens who share their same interests.

"They can just find other kids who are superexcited about the same thing, so if you are living in a small town and you're the only kid who loves musical theater, instead of feeling like a freak about it, you can go online and find all these other kids that love musical theater," she said.

Social media has been a place where teens, who might be feeling isolated, can cry for help. For example, when an 18-year-old recently posted on his Facebook page that he was thinking of jumping off the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York with New Jersey, Port Authority officers managed to connect with him on social media and encouraged him to get help.

Social media for social good

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace admits she often thinks of the negatives when it comes to teens on social media networks.
CNN's Kelly Wallace admits she often thinks of the negatives when it comes to teens on social media networks.

Teens have also shown they can use social media to make their voices heard. After a Christian motivational speaker, who believes "dateable girls know how to shut up," spoke at a high school in Richardson, Texas, students took to Twitter to express their outrage.

One student wrote on Twitter, "Don't you guys just love listening to sexist comments, irrational comparisons and blunt stereotypes w/o actual proof or evidence?"

"Teens and this young generation in general want action," said Elena Sonnino, a founder of the site Live.Do.Grow, social media strategist and writer who focuses on engaging tweens and teens in using their voice for social good.

"They want to be able to see, for better or for worse, really quick action and social media allows them to create positive, meaningful change quickly."

READ: At some schools, 'Big Brother' is watching

Sonnino, who has created a Facebook group called Grow Global Citizens, said social media has not only increased tweens and teens' awareness of the world around them, but also has allowed them to be more innovative about how they can get involved.

"In the past ... they would do canned food drives, they'd do the book drives, they'd do all the things that have been done over and over, which were all wonderful, don't get me wrong, but now ... they're realizing there is so much more they can do," said Sonnino.

At a recent digital family summit, Sonnino said she heard from kids who are doing things like creating Rainbow Loom bracelets to raise money for cystic fibrosis, and taking "selfies" and using the hashtag #unselfie to promote awareness of "Giving Tuesday," the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which is billed as a day to promote giving to others during the holiday season.

Message to parents: Have the talk

Levey said she and KidzVuz co-founder Nancy Friedman try to urge parents to, in essence, get with the program about social media. The genie is out of the bottle, folks.

"We liken it to the sex talks," said Levey. "You can either have the argument that you never want to tell your kids about sex and you don't want them to learn, and then good luck to them, or you can give them the rules and sort of be there with them every step of the way."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

READ: Mom's sexy 'selfies' ban: Is there a double standard for girls?

"I think part of the problem is parents, unlike (talking about) sex, really don't know the rules themselves," she said.

But teens like Amelia Masio are learning the digital ropes and are showing us parents that they're just fine in the vast social media landscape.

Recently, Amelia stood up for someone who was being criticized online, and viewed the exchange "kind of like math in a way, with negative and positive positions."

"If one person says this thing, it brings them down, but if this (other) person says the equal amount just as good, it evens out to a zero," she said.

I'm feeling better already!

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter, and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Looking for ways to get into the best school for you, cut tuition costs or study smarter? Here are 10 tips for improving the college experience.
updated 9:58 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Lisa Respers France
CNN's Lisa France opens up about her lifelong struggle with weight, its physical and mental toll, and what she's doing to lighten the burden.
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Bridget Cutler was still adjusting to being a new mom when she read a magazine article that changed her life.
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Hundreds of students staged a walkout in Denver, accusing the school board of trying to censor what they're taught about U.S. history.
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
People who identify as asexual feel little or no sexual attraction to other people. And as far as they're concerned, that's A-OK.
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Actress Emma Watson joins a cadre of celebrities who have used their star power to bring attention to gender issues.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
Clemson University suspends mandatory online course that asked questions about sex lives, drinking and drug use.
updated 5:13 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Does the word "virginity" evoke discussions of sexuality or religious belief? That's the question residents in Fayetteville, Arkansas, are asking after a junior high student was asked to change out of a T-shirt that read "Virginity Rocks."
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Not knowing exactly where her ancestors come from has always bothered Kelly Wallace, but she's heartened to learn about some of the famous cousins she never knew she had.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Many superstar athletes from Michael Vick to Tiger Woods were ultimately forgiven by fans and the public. Could Ray Rice also get a second chance?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
The indictment of NFL star Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges has revealed sharp differences in cultural, regional and generational attitudes toward using physical force to discipline kids.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
cara reedy
The world often treats little people like Cara Reedy as less than human. She's learned to stand up for herself and shout back.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
The unheard voices of domestic abuse spoke up on CNN iReport when Rihanna's story of abuse came to light. In light of the Ray Rice controversy, we decided to bring back these stories that are still just as powerful as the day they were told.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
More than 3 million children witness domestic violence every year, and the damage can last a lifetime.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
As media outlets Monday circulated video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator, many wondered why the woman -- now his wife -- could remain with him.
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
The ways mother-daughter book clubs can help empower girls are the focus of a new book, "Her Next Chapter."
updated 5:40 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Colleges are working to prevent sexual assault by educating students on affirmative consent, or only "yes means yes."
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
A mom questions if she wants her daughters seeing a "sado-masochistic relationship, dressed up as a Hollywood love fantasy?"
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
In 2014, why is society still so incredibly uncomfortable with public breastfeeding? Kelly Wallace gets to the root of the controversy.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Seven years ago, Barbara Theodosiou, then a successful entrepreneur, stopped going to meetings, leaving the house and taking care of herself. She grew increasingly distraught -- her two children were addicts.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 3:16 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT