Get Your Kids Online—For Good

by Elena Sonnino- September 26, 2013 • 11:41 am


engaging youth in social good

When was the last time you took an action online, clicking or sharing something that you read because it moved you? My guess is that if you’re like me, you probably do this several times a day, or at least weekly. Clicking a link symbolizes influence, be it based on emotion, statistics, politics or current events. And every time we do this, we’re making a choice that can influence our followers and friends. What if we could harness this “clictivism” and use social media for good, instead of getting lost in the online abyss that can happen when we forget to be intentional?

As a mom whose career and life now unfold online every single day, I know my job has great impact on my personal life and my family. My tween daughter likes to look over my shoulder when she sees me online, which is often. She recognizes Instagram, the back end of my blog, Facebook and Twitter.  She wonders (and sometimes challenges) why she’s limited to one hour of screen time each day while I work in front of my computer all day and often into the night.

It’s a hard question to answer honestly, because the truth is that one of our most important jobs as parents is to model behaviors. We know our children watch what we do and say, even when they appear to be ignoring us. So when my daughter notices me clicking around or sharing online, I know I have a limited opportunity to highlight or narrate the content I decide to act upon. Which is: content that does more than inspire, but advocates for a cause I care about. I want her to know I’m not sitting idle on social media platforms simply to pass time or have fun. I take my work and my ability to use my voice to inspire and empower others very seriously.

Imagine what would happen if our tweens and teens could learn that the Internet and social media are not just ways to connect for pleasure, but are also places to effect positive change around the world. That sometimes all it takes is simple click or comment to be a change agent. What if we modeled social responsibility, global citizenship and a sense of empathy for our world in how we use our time online? After all, our children are growing up in a world where distances matter less and less with increased virtual connectivity. We need to prepare them for more than just surviving today and knowing what to avoid online. We need to prepare them for a lifetime long after they leave our homes that will demand global skills and thinking, interdependence and cooperation.

I recently organized a Washington, DC, area event for moms and tweens, where for an entire morning we talked about social good, global citizenship and technology. The reality is that our children care. They know their voices matter, or can matter, and crave ways to take meaningful actions, especially to help other children around the world. The real impact and inspiration from the workshop came when tweens took the stage to talk about their experiences with social good and to start conversations about what it means to be a global citizen and what social good really is. Because just like in life, the best lessons start with seeing or hearing about the concrete actions and behaviors of others.

The power of hearing about tween-led mitten drives organized using a parent’s Facebook page, or how children in India are mobilizing to make sure that their community has access to clean water, inspired everyone in the audience, moms and tweens. I could practically see the realization sweep the room that doing good and taking action does not have to involve months of logistical planning. The first step is to envision a goal and to get started.

Doing real good can seem overwhelming to parents because, let’s be honest, between sports, activities, homework, the the realities of daily life, we’re busy. Really busy. That’s why using social media and screen time for good is so powerful. Why not use a platform that’s already part of our daily routine to educate or raise awareness and funds?

One tween participant said it best: “Being a global citizen means thinking about others instead of yourself. It means learning from everyone and everything around us.” Imagine what will happen if we can make using social media and the Internet for good a daily habit for our 21st-century children?

The trick, of course, is finding causes and organizations that you not only care about but that also do work that empowers and fosters sustainable progress. Best bets are organizations that make it easy for you to get involved, use your voice and have an impact that maintains the dignity and respect of those on the receiving end of your efforts.

Start small, start today. Join in the movement to empower our youth to use their voices for good, online and offline.

Some organizations that I think are perfect for families and youth and are easy to get involved with:

  • Shot@Life — Shot@Life educates, connects and empowers Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries.
  • Girl Up — Girl Up is an innovative campaign of the United Nations Foundation that gives American girls the opportunity to channel their energy and compassion into global leadership.
  • UNICEF — The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives by providing health care and immunizationsclean water and sanitationnutritioneducationemergency relief and more.
  • Giving Tuesday — We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Wouldn’t it be great to have a day for giving back? #GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season.

Websites that promote social good and global citizenship:

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