Should 6 to 10 year olds be practicing social networking?










Okay, I make my living creating social media campaigns and living in social spaces like Facebook and Twitter. But as a Mom, I have to admit the idea of young children on the web is a bit disturbing. It’s one thing to be playing games online, but practicing social networking? What happened to play dates and playing in the backyard?

I stumbled on Togetherville.

Joining the ranks of Disney and Nick, who have social networking as a part of their experiences, Togetherville is a social networking site in beta phase designed just for six to 10 year olds. Yes, that’s right 6 to 10 year olds.

The vision for Togetherville is to create a space for children so they can learn how to use the Internet safely before they reach their teens. It’s full of parental controls and in fact they encourage a parent’s participation (or a grandparent, aunt or uncle is welcome). When you first enter, the choice is given for the child or parent experience.

As a parent, you set up the account by connecting it to your Facebook account. From there you can choose those from your social graph you approve of socializing with your child. And inviting the folks from your real-world neighborhood is encouraged. With all the discussion around Facebook privacy, it seems incongruous to think of Togetherville being totally safe when it is linked to Facebook.

Togetherville is full of games, art projects and videos. Your child can earn virtual currency/badges just adults do on Facebook and on Foursquare. The content is approved by parents and curated. Videos are pulled from YouTube. I was surprised to find the “Swagger Wagon-Sienna video” as part of the selection. I did like that you couldn’t click on the video and be taken to YouTube as on other adult sites.

For parents, who want to encourage self- expression, kids on Togetherville can design logos, cards and share with their friends. The site has a function they call “quips” which are thought bubbles or messages kids post to each other to share thoughts and feelings. But it’s all preset messaging. And all the content is screened. Parents can send messages to their child as well, but even those messages are preset. There is no live chat, no uploading of user-generated content. There will be no cyber-bullying on Togetherville.

So I have to ask how that teaches a child Internet safety. If everything is pre-determined how are they learning to screen their postings? How are they learning to think before posting? And with the parent approving all friends, how is the child learning it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality of friends.

Togetherville claims the kids are not searchable. And there is full parental control regarding who has access and what appears on your Wall. But it is integrated with Facebook at this time, and we all know someone or have experienced ourselves a hacking or issue with Facebook.

What’s what? .me
What’s What? .Me is another community requiring parents to use a webcam to set up their child’s profile so it can use it’s facial recognition technology to ensure only children are using the site. It separates the kids by school grade and only lets them socialize with kids a grade below or above them. It’s free but they require a parent credit card to verify a parent is setting up the account. They’ve blocked inappropriate language and include a parental control panel.

So is social networking for very young children right?

Are they too young? As a parent myself, I think so. Although it would be nice to set the stage for the next generation of audiences that might want to engage with content I create. I think there’s a time and a place for social networking.

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