Last week, a colleague at work recommended a social networking site for 6-10 year olds so that I could share it with my sons. I was struck by a combination of horror and curiosity. My friends with 11-17 year olds share real concerns about social networking and their tween/teenagers - but in the pre-tween set, they are just learning to type.
People are built to connect with other people - we start as newborns and some of the most important skills of preschool and elementary school are the social skills. In face to face settings, children learn the nuances of communication - how to be polite, how to be honest yet tactful, how to express your thoughts and how to fit in a group. Online, adults forget how to interact and become more aggressive, curt and bombastic. And the only real option is to delete the message. Is this the place we want our children learning how to interact?
There's no doubt that my kids will be online earlier and more frequently than I am. My eldest loves having an email address - although he still asks permission to logon and view his messages. He has a limited community of people's email addresses. And when he put his name in a raffle this weekend, he wrote my email address instead of him (a good choice). He's learning to protect his privacy without yet knowing why.
For the under 12 set, I believe face to face interaction is essential - and it happens on playgrounds, sports teams and at school - not on screens. The computer is for limited entertainment and for schoolwork - like reports. I looked at Togetherville and agree with the review on Digiday:Daily that this age group is too young to social network. For the record, I'm not a fan of webkinz or that genre either - make believe is better when it's make believe - not proscribed by a computer.
For the 12-17, I think parents have to be realistic in that their children are using text and social networking - now the question is how can a parent be part of the conversation while allowing their teenager some privacy. There's a stealth company I'm involved with that has terrific technology and endorsements around power the conversation between parents and teenagers using social networks. More on that in a future post...
What do you think?