An increasing number of parents are concerned about the effects of social media on their children, and rightfully so. Since the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, the term “cyber bullying” has fast become part of the American lexicon. Unfortunately despite the many positive attributes social media has brought to communication, social networking has made it easier for unsuspecting children and teens to become victims of sexual predators or identity theft.
Although Facebook features privacy settings, a Family Safety Center, and requires its users to be at least 13 years of age, children remain at risk. According to a recent article featured in the Los Angeles Times, “About 7.5 million active Facebook users are skirting the company’s age policy by lying about their age, saying they are 13 or older. Among those preteens more than 5 million are under 10, according to a Consumer Reports survey.”1 Never mind that more and more parents are creating Facebook accounts for their young children as well.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about social media gone awry… “Cyber-bullying leads to teen suicide,” “Pornographers use social media to victimize children,” etc. The events are tragic and parents should be vigilant about protecting their children from the dangers online. However, not all social media is dangerous, and in fact, many experts have shown that social networking can be very beneficial for children and teens.
Megan Meier, 1992-2006. Victim of cyber-bullying.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Megan_Meier)
In a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills.”2 The report goes on to explain that, while social media can enhance the lives of teens and children, they are still at some risk due to their limited skills in self-control and exposure to peer-pressure.
The truth is, mobile and tablet usage among children is rapidly on the rise, making social networking more prevalent and accessible than ever before. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics poll, “22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day; and more than half of adolescents log on to social media sites more than once a day,” concluding that, “…a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.”2
Furthermore, today’s youth communicate much differently than those of 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. Social networking is where they socialize, share information, get involved in their communities, join interest groups, form friendships, express themselves through writing on blogs, explore their creativity, play, and learn new skills and tools. Social networking isn’t going anywhere—there is both a demand and a need.
So it’s no wonder that a whole new crop of youth-based social networking sites are popping up all over the Internet, with even more on the horizon. These sites tend to be more niche-based, catering to the varying interests and behaviors of boys and girls of all ages. Many sites include games, both fun and educational. Others are very family-centric, inviting parents and children to sign up together. And nearly all of them advertise the highest levels of security and privacy protection.
NPR recently published its list of “Ten Safe Social Networking Sites” for kids, encouraging parents to learn more about and embrace social media as their options have expanded since the days of just Facebook vs. MySpace:
1. ScuttlePad (2010) Age 7+
Social network with training wheels is safe but limited.
2. Togetherville (2010) Age 7+
Kids’ social site connects to parents’ Facebook friends.
3. WhatsWhat.me (2011) Age7+
Tween social network with top-notch safety features.
4. Yoursphere (2009) Age 9+
Kid-only social network promises to block dangerous adults.
5. Franktown Rocks (2009) Age 10+
Music and social networking combine in safe, cool hangout.
6. GiantHello (2010) Age 10+
Facebook-lite gets a lot right, but watch out for games.
7. GirlSense (2009) Age 10+
Safe, creative community for tween fashionistas.
8. Sweety High (2010) Age 11+
Fun, closed social network for girls is strong on privacy.
9. Imbee (2011) Age 10+
Safer social networking if parents stay involved.
10. YourCause (2009) Age 13+
An easy, fun, socially-networked way to fundraise.
WhatsWhat.me is a recommended site for tweens where there is “No Adults Allowed”.
SweetyHigh.com is just for girls and highly secure.
Beyond traditional social networking, some visionaries are creating sites that combine education and social networking. As children and teens spend more and more time online, advertisers and the media aren’t the only ones capitalizing on this trend. Meet Rudy DeFelice, Founder of Kidworth.com, a new site that targets parents and their children to “Help Kids Succeed Financially.” Through various tools, graphs, and charts, children and their parents can set and track a variety of financial goals, teaching them about money early on, while building their personal wealth.
Kidworth.com helps kids gain financial knowledge and wealth starting from a very young age.
Rudy explains how the site incorporates social media into its services and where he sees it going in the future, “Social networking is a significant part of the Kidworth experience currently. Families use Kidworth to set and achieve kids’ financial goals. Users share goals and are able to harness support from their family’s network through social media.”
“In the future, we plan to integrate social media further up the value chain, so that financial planning and goal setting is done socially. For example, before selecting a financial goal to work towards, an account to open or a mutual fund to purchase, a user will be able to see what others in his/her network have done in that area. The effect of this will be to make basic financial planning and decision making, which is either done alone or with the help of a single advisor, more of a social, peer-to-peer experience.”
Similar to Kidworth.com, YourCause.com, one of the top sites cited by NPR, utilizes social media to help children and adults alike volunteer, donate to, or join a variety of charitable causes. Users can track and tweet their cause, thus spreading awareness to their social networks.
Users can search and sign up for charitable and volunteer opportunities via YourCause.com
Navigating the social media world might be risky for some youth and concerning for their parents, but industry giants like Facebook have taken a serious stance on safety and privacy, implementing a variety of new tools and guidelines to help users feel more at ease. Additionally, a new generation of youth-based social networking sites is taking advantage of the increased online and mobile habits of younger populations while addressing the fears of their parents by offering several new and exciting alternatives.
1 “7.5 million Facebook users are too young for the site”, Shan Li, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2011.
2 “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families”, From the American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe, MD, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, MD, Council on Communications and Media, Published online March 28, 2011, Pediatrics Vol. 127 No. 4 April 1, 2011 pp. 800-804.