The Internet is full of stories about dangers of the social media for children and young adults with issues like cyberbullying, sexting, online fraud among others. Technology is slowly integrating with the physical aspects of our daily lives and so in the near future we will be fully operation within the internet of things. According to Wikipedia, the internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. Objects will soon acquire the ability to communicate and from this grow more information networks.
According to a survey by Dotsavvy Africa in January 2016, the “Big Five” in terms of Social Media sites on the Kenyan Landscape are Facebook at 5 million users, followed by Twitter and LinkedIn with a near tie of 1.4 million and 1.3 million respectively. Instagram takes fourth place followed by Snapchat.
Some aspects of social media usage trends by adults also mirror the teen demographic. A good number of teens own mobile phones and log in several times a day to use them for interaction on their social media sites. Social Media platforms are now integrating texting and messaging platforms, a trend that will grow the social networks more. In June 2016 Facebook integrated SMS texting into messenger; subscribers select if they want to send texts within the Messenger App to avoid switching between screens.
Social media has the good, the bad and the ugly but it suffices to say that for now, not every child has undergone this spectrum of experience when using social media. As Kenyan parents we grew up in the era that interacted more from the outdoors with little or no technological engagement. We are now raising or in the stewardship of children born in a technological era; both of us having been exposed to technology at the same time. It is evident that there is a delicate balance when it comes to guiding children on the use of fast evolving media that we are also learning how to use.
The Internet is here to stay and with the continued innovation, social networks are going to be countless. The time to start integration towards constructive use of social media by children and young adults is now, before we become overwhelmed. Parents, teachers, guardians or caregivers should therefore start by keeping up with the trends. Know what is hot and trending on the platforms and keep up with the pros and cons.
As we further investigate usage trends for social media among children and young adults, it is important to recognize and maintain the appreciation of some benefits of social media for this demographic of the Kenyan population.
Social media offers social support skills. Friendships can be developed and strengthened among children and young adults in conducive and safe environments using the basis of shared interests, hobbies or geographical locations.
The global reach of social media networks has turned the world into a global village. This gives a child enormous exposure through borderless interactions and widens their scope of critical thinking. Mental stimulation on a peer to peer level proves to have more impact on shift in mindsets.
Formal education has adopted the use of social media in curriculum content delivery. Children learn and improve their reading, writing and motor skills using blogs, chat rooms and virtual networks. Eneza Education is a Kenyan mobile education platform with a virtual tutor (Mwalimoo) and teacher’s assistant that gives both students and teachers access to material and interaction platforms on subject based discussion groups.
The family unit has also found more ways to engage using social media, thus growing or maintaining certain bonds. Families that have one parent working abroad have made use of some social media platforms to keep in touch at home. Grandparents no longer have to wait for the bi-annual Easter and Christmas visit to see the grandchildren; they have increased interactions in between the visits. Only child families have also expanded the interaction level of the child with more friends and relatives using social media networks.
Community and social good benefits a lot from the capacity of social media networks to mobilize numbers for participation. Response for crowd funding by Kenyans on social media to Jadudi, the student who needed surgery for a brain tumor was overwhelming. Ma3 route, the mobile platform that crowd-sources for transport data and provides users with information on traffic updates has become a dependable tool for Nairobians. Such case studies motivate children and young adults on the impact of social media for social good.
Concerns for child safety online cannot be looked over but it is important that Kenyan children learn to use social media safely and responsibly and become exemplary digital citizens while maximizing on the social network tools for growth in the country.
Kenya is celebrating Social Media Day on 30 June 2016. Social Media Day was launched by Mashable in 2010 to recognize the digital revolution and create Social Media awareness. Each year thousands of people organize offline meet ups across the globe to recognize and celebrate the growth of social media globally. In Kenya, Social Media Day is organized by Eyeballs Marketing in partnership with public and private sector stakeholders including the Kenya ICT Authority.
The theme for the 2016 #SMDAYKE celebrations is: “Freedom with Responsibility” and seeks to sensitize Kenyans about the responsibilities that come with the freedoms of Social Media. The #SMDAYKE conversation will be devolved to all the counties across Kenya and will involve a Free Digital Training programme sponsored by Google through its partner Livity Africa.