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12 October 2010

Children and Social Networks

There is lots of discussion about children and the Internet in general, and children and social networking in particular.

Before checking out the sites below, watch this interview with a Middle School Principal in the US (from April 2010).  The main problem, "is that tweens do not have the resilience to withstand internet name-calling. 'They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause,' he said."

Sarah Kessler has written a post on Mashable this week about children using social networks like Facebook and Myspace.

"If you have young children on Facebook or MySpace, they shouldn’t be — at least legally. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents websites from collecting personal information about children who are under the age of 13 without their parents’ permission.
Many children bypass this law, even on sites that enforce it, by simply adjusting their birthday..."

She lists 5 social networks designed for young children; I wanted to find out more about each one.


Togetherville provides a free, kid-safe communication, privacy controls, and a parent-managed friend list through Facebook.  It's intended for children ages 6 to 10.  The New York Times has called it a "social networking site with training wheels".

National Public Radio in the US did a story on Togethervile in May 2010.  On the program you can hear      a first grader interviewed about her use of the site.  Eve Troeh, the presenter comments:
"Parents set up Togetherville profiles. They approve every friend request, and can see every activity on the site. Kids can send messages like "Way to Go" or "You're talented!" They can't write their own.
Right now, Togetherville is free. But Dhillon (the site developer) says it might soon charge for some games, apps and virtual gifts."
Listen to the NPR program before you sign your child up for Togetherville:

What’s What

"What’s What is all about providing a great online experience for your child today and preparing them for their online lives of tomorrow. We designed the site so that kids can express themselves and interact with friends in a supportive, appropriate, and safe manner. There are no ads, and the children are not solicited for other products and services." (FAQ)
The site is constantly monitored, children are only allowed to associate with those in their grade/age group, log in is through a webcam identity check (biometric face recognition). It's run by "a team of concerned parents."

Image from the What's What demo
It may be a "safe environment" in which an 8 - 14 year old can have "fun",  using the Internet within this walled garden will teach a child very little about "safety", or netizenship - it's all being done for them behind the scenes.


ScuttlePad is designed for kids ages 6 - 11.  "Only guided communication is allowed by using predefined word lists. All photos are manually reviewed and approved. No predators, solicitation, harassment or bullying is assured." (a rather disconcerting bit of grammar, there.) The site is run by a group from Utah (US).

Content is monitored: "Our discussion often starts: “I would never let my child post a picture like this. What do you think?” Then we debate and determine what is most appropriate." (link).  They have already determined what words a child can put into a message...

Giant Hello

"giantHello was created by parents who were concerned about how, when and where their kids were spending time on the Internet. Our “tweenagers” outgrew the traditional websites for children but weren’t yet ready for the full-fledged, open social networking experience. We created giantHello to address those needs." (link)

"In order to register for a giantHello account, children must create a username and password, and enter their birthday and gender. Usernames should not contain real names, or any portion thereof. Passwords should be "easy to remember, but hard to guess." If the child is under the age of 13, they may access limited features of the giantHello site such as games and fan pages. Children who use the site in the aforementioned manner will not be able to post any personally identifiable information.

In order to access all the features of the website, parents of children under the age of 13 can submit a valid, verifiable e-mail address, and create their own username and password when completing registration for their children. Since membership on giantHello is contingent upon a parent's verifiable consent..."

No email address is needed to sign up.

first item in my inbox

This site originates from Georgia (US).

Part of the registration process on this site is creating your avatar. An email address is required for account activation, and children under 13 must have their parents permission.
There are links to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook on the site.  There is a section of the site, Toy Swap, where members can list and sell second hand items - an inhouse ebay, with all the pitfalls.

I had fun making my avatar, but I haven't received my confirmation email yet from the site.

My Advice? 
If you're dying to have some social interaction through the Internet, I suggest you get your hands on  a digital camera, go out into your world and take pictures of what interests you, what you see that is unusual, or beautiful.  Upload them to a photo sharing site like Flickr, and begin to sort and describe them.  Begin your social interaction around photos you've taken, and leave comment on other people's photos  that you admire.  You could blog about your photos, too, on Blogger or Tumblr.   Make your Internet focus be creative and active.