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Playing Safe with Social Networking Sites for Kids

Playing safe with social networking sites for kids

In his first expert post for Ready for Ten, Guy Clapperton gives us the low-down on social networking for children. Which sites may be for you and yours?

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare – you’ve almost certainly heard the names and might well be a part of one or more of them. And your kids will have noticed. As they approach double figures they’re going to want to know what it’s all about and maybe practice a bit of social networking themselves.

There are risks, of course, and you’ll want to know a bit more about where they can learn the skills that’ll be useful to them as adults – as well as having a load of fun doing it – safely. The first thing to remember is that Twitter, Facebook and the ones with which you’re likely to be most familiar are restricted to the over-12 market. Or people who are willing to tick a box claiming to be over 12, anyway.

Other people

Something you need to know about these sites is that their policies change on a day-to-day basis. As I type I’m waiting to hear about Facebook’s new privacy policy, which it’s changing after bad feedback from its members. As I type I therefore have no idea whether any information or pictures of my daughter I might put up there will be shared outside the Facebook network, so I don’t put any up there. I’d always suggest that it you don’t want information or images shared, you don’t put it on the Internet.

Kids’ networks
The good news is that there are some networks which are safe. They just are. Designed for kids, they offer a protected environment in which the little darlings can create their private online obsessions and drive us all completely insane with them, relatively unfettered.

You might want to have a look at one of my daughter’s favourites, Stardoll.com. They join with a nickname, they design costumes for their dolls and they chat a bit. My daughter hasn’t actually joined, she just designs the costumes. Membership starts around seven and kids can stay until they’re about 17 – or more likely eight when they get bored rigid. More flexible is Moshi Monsters (moshimonsters.com, as if you couldn’t have guessed) where they can create their own monster to run riot in an imaginary city.

It’s bright, it’s colourful (see the screen grab) and it’s fun. Most popular of all, though, is PopTropica.com, where the kids’ avatar moves from island to island – although my daughter’s friends keep urging her to join clubpenguin.com, where kids are encouraged to be creative, draw and upload their work for others to see.

Should they join?

There’s an easy knee-jerk reaction to say that kids shouldn’t be in front of a computer all the time, they should be out in the fresh air. And it’s right, but that phrase ‘all the time’ is important. These virtual worlds are there to stimulate, to have fun and to prepare them for later life.

There’s a huge difference between joining/playing and becoming obsessed. In moderation, though, these sites are a lot of fun and might just help kids develop an edge in the networked world they’ll find as adults.

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