The biggest difference between my generation and the generation of my kids is how we connect with friends.  (Not to worry, this isn't another one of those back-in-the-day stories)  When I was growing up we didn't have things like facebook, smartphones  or even computers.  So we "hung out" with our friends, talked to them on the phone, even sent letters in the mail.  Who does that anymore?  Nobody.  Kids these days  go to social media websites like Facebook, they tweet on Twitter and they text on their iPhones.  It's different, but it's what they know and its what their generation does to connect.  But is it good for them?

A new report suggests social media websites like Facebook and Twitter can have real benefits and risks for children.

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According to a report on the impact of social media by the American Academy of Pediatrics,  These sites, and virtual gaming worlds, allow users to interact with each other and they are where children and adolescents are spending a lot, if not most, of their free time.

The report, published online March 28 in Pediatrics, says that more than half of adolescents log on to a social media Web site at least once a day, and nearly one-quarter of teens say they log on to their favorite social media sites 10 or more times each day.

Health Day reporter

So what's the bottom line?

"Social media sites are mostly good. They're where kids socialize and where they connect together today," said report author Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe, CEO and editor-in-chief of Pediatrics Now. "Kids' social spaces are shrinking. They don't have the places or the time to hang out like their parents did. Social media allows them to have time to reconnect. But, it has to be done in a way that's not all-encompassing," O'Keeffe said.

"For this to happen, it works better if kids have parents that they can engage with. The best rule of thumb is to be 'friends' with your child on Facebook. If a kid won't friend a parent, it's usually a sign that something's not right," she cautioned.

Health Day Reporter

Just like most things kids need to know to learn to interact with one another on social media sites and the best person to show them is their parents.  (Yes, I know sometimes kids are way smarter than we are about computers, but I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about showing them how to be a "social human being".)

Social media encourages kids to connect with each other and to express their creativity. They also provide an opportunity for learning, and are a way for teens to access health information.

But, these sites are not without risk, according to the report. One of the biggest risks is cyberbullying and online harassment.

"Technology is an extension of what goes on in the real world. Bullying was around before the Internet, but cyberbullying makes it easier," explained Dr. Brian Primack, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Primack also noted that children are hardwired to experiment and push boundaries. Today's technology may just make that easier. Primack pointed out that "sexting" is a good example of this. Sexting is defined as "sending, receiving or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs or images via cell phone, computer or other digital devices," according to the report.

Health Day Reporter