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Safely Harnessing the Power of Social Networking Technology


Today’s teens are increasingly relying on online social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace to communicate and interact with their peers. These sites allow users to create an online profile page where they can post pictures, music, and blogs. Many teens spend hours each day on such websites and have hundreds of online friends. Although some parents and policymakers have voiced concern about the dangers posed to teens using this technology, a recent study sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation suggests that young people who use these online social networks gain computer literacy skills that are necessary to function in the digital age.

Examples of Youth Groups Using Social Networking to Promote Their Activities

When the Union City Youth Commission hosts an event for young people, such as their “Teen Idol” night, the commissioners send out an invitation on their Facebook and MySpace pages and ask their friends to pass it on. This has proven to be a very effective way to get the word out and get more youth involved in activities, according to program coordinator Marissa Vera.

The Saratoga Youth Commission has a Facebook Group page with 196 members. According to staff advisor Adam Henig, “It’s a way to introduce ourselves to the community and update teens on upcoming events … We soon will be using it to conduct surveys about the possible needs for a teen center and a safe rides program.” The page allows members to share photos, videos, and webpage links, to post messages and events, and even to chat online with other group members using an instant messaging application.

Some adult staff members working with youth commissions are also taking advantage of social networking technology. Google Groups and Yahoo Groups are free services that allow people to create and join groups with common interests and participate in threaded discussions. In August of 2008, El Dorado Hills Community Service District Teen Services Coordinator Christine Foster launched a Google Group to help youth commission staff and people interested in forming youth commissions in the region to connect and communicate. Foster is secretary of the Northern California Teen Resource Committee, which was founded by Elk Grove Recreation Supervisor Patrick Larkin. The Committee’s Google Group now includes over 40 members representing communities from Placerville to Yuba. Members can create a profile with their photo and information about themselves that only other members can access. According to Sacramento Youth Commission advisor Christina DeMoss, members use the group to share strategies and resources, post agendas, and discuss future in-person meeting dates and times. “It’s a great way of getting people together and it’s an easy tool to use,” she commented.

Things to Keep in Mind When Using Social Networking

Chances are the youth in your community are already familiar with these social networking technologies. While these tools may be a powerful way to get the word out about events and help youth organize effectively, there are some basic precautions to keep in mind:

  • Alert youth to the fact that it may be very difficult to remove information posted on the internet, and it could be viewed by anyone. Young people should be advised to only post information that they are comfortable with strangers viewing now and in the future.
  • It may also be worth pointing out that strangers they meet online may not be who they represent themselves to be.
  • Social networking sites can be addictive- make sure that youth are balancing their time online with other activities like doing their homework and going outside!

By teaching youth some common sense guidelines and guiding them to appropriate websites, advisors can help youth commissioners safely take advantage of this technology for outreach, collaboration, and coordinating successful activities.

Read more about the importance of social networking tools for teen skills development in a report from the Macarthur Foundation by Mizuko Ito- visit:

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