It is a time-honored tradition that children want to do exactly what their older counterparts are doing. A trip into the makeup drawer or a game of paintball may not prove to be troublesome, but the new area that kids are exploring is social networking. Unfortunately, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are often not the safest places for children. Sensing a new marketing opportunity, many companies have developed social networking sites designed just for children. These new sites have applications for parental controls and age-appropriate games. And the best of these sites are Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) compliant. Sites such as these ensure that kids don’t feel left out of the social networking action and give them a place to express themselves in a safer environment. Some of the sites that have come to our attention are:
- Everloop: Everloop focuses on boys and girls ages eight to thirteen. They call themselves a “looping” site as opposed to a social networking site, which they fear may be too mature for such a young demographic.
- Imbee: For children more interested in sharing content such as video and images, Imbue is a good fit. The network is targeted to teens eight to fourteen year olds. It also provides news that would interest readers of this age group, such as the latest on Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez videos, gossip and pictures.
- Togetherville: Disney recently acquired Togetherville and has described its new site as social networking on training wheels. This seems to be the social networking site quickly gaining the most popularity, perhaps due to the fact that parents have their own login to access their child’s online activity and can monitor what is posted. Togetherville targets children under 10.
- Club Penguin: On this site you do get to waddle around as a penguin, but in order to maximize you fun you have to pay a membership fee. The site is also owned by Disney and aside from being a safe role playing environment, the site teaches children basic rules for using any site, such as password protection and how to inform a parent if something seems dangerous while they are online.
- Webkinz: This site is great! It’s a little like Dungeons and Dragons, but safe and appropriate for children. Online gaming can be very frightening, but Webkinz provides a gaming outlet in a child-appropriate way. Users can chat, shop and work towards prizes, all while learning age appropriate material.
Many of these sites have in-depth resource areas for parent to learn how to protect their children online, as well as other netiquette tips, such as how much time a child should spend online.
The Internet is a place to obtain information that children may otherwise not have access to. Some of this information is good and some is harmful. The above social networking sites not only help children learn through communicating, but also provide protection from some harmful aspects of Web 2.0 interaction. However, it is important to remember that even if a child is participating in a social network developed just for them danger still lurks and parents need to take responsibility for what their children do online. Children should still be made aware of what should and should not be posted online and whom they should and should not speak with. Parents should be sure to always pay attention to their children’s online activities.