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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Social networking for kids

Web sites target the hard-to-reach tween crowd

Two announcements this week have put renewed emphasis on social media for the pre-teen set. First, there was the launch of imbee, which describes itself as “a safer social networking site that allows the young, hip and trendy to share and connect with friends.” Then yesterday, came news that kid social network Togetherville had been acquired by The Walt Disney Company.

A successful social network for kids of pre-Facebook age (say, 8-13) has long been a goal of both web developers and marketers. There have been – and still are – some very successful sites for the younger crowd (Webkinz, Moshi Monsters, and Disney’s own Club Penguin come to mind), but when kids get to those tween years, so the theory goes, they are looking for something more grown-up, more “Facebook-like,” to keep them engaged.

Plugging this social networking gap also has appeal for parents. Many are aware that Webkinz doesn’t really cut it anymore, but they would like nothing better than to defer the inevitable Facebook and YouTube for just a little while longer.

To succeed in this elusive but lucrative world, the developers of tween social networks face three hurdles. First, their hands are tied by COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – which requires web site operators to obtain “verifiable parental consent” before they can collect any data from a child under the age of 13. There are various ways to comply – imbee asks for a parent’s credit card, while Togetherville first signs-up the parent through Facebook – but every option has the “uncool” result of heavy parental involvement.

Second, the complex sign-up and approval process means that acquiring friends on tween social networks can be a slow and painful process. Both imbee and Togetherville make much of the fact that you can connect with friends from school but, at least in Togetherville’s case, that would mean that the parents of both kids would have to be Facebook friends or at least both have Facebook accounts.

Third, there is the issue of content. Sure, it’s great to chat online with friends, but if today’s 12-year-old has something urgent to communicate, she is far more likely to send a text from her iPhone than wait until she can log on to the family computer. Instead, kids go to the Web for fun and entertainment, and that means games, music, and videos.

Faced with these hurdles, it’s not surprising that a number of tween social networks have struggled. Meanwhile, thousands of tweens are not waiting to turn 13 and are opening Facebook accounts anyway, with or without the help of their parents.

They don’t have to involve cute penguins or furry animals, but games are still the best way to capture a pre-teen audience online. Both imbee and Togetherville have made attempts to integrate games and other entertainment into their fledgling social networks. How well they succeed in those areas is likely to determine how well they succeed overall.

Comment by Carmen Cook, posted 4/20/2012, 9:16 AM:

There is another website called Kids Social Network. It is also targeted towards tweens and young children. What is unique about this site is that it is monitored by law enforcement officials and parents can download a Lock Down Browser. Both of features will help parent feel better about letting their children use social networking sites. You can find out more at: http://www.kidssocialnetwork.com
Comment by Denise, posted 3/7/2011, 5:52 PM:

I just want to commend Imbee for having a safe, secure site for "tweens". As a mother, I am very grateful that I trust my son on that site. He has he ability to communicate with others and look into things that he is interested in. There is a wide variety of "fun features" to suit each child's individuality. I strongly encourage the other moms out there that have a tween/tweens to check out the site.
Comment by Ariel, posted 3/7/2011, 5:26 PM:

Imbee is sooo much fun!!! My Mom said I could not have a facebook, but I am glad, because on imbee I can do soooo much more. I always read DREW so I can learn about Willow Smith and Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, but the fanzones are fun too!!! :))))
Comment by Chris, posted 2/26/2011, 10:05 AM:

The topic of how tweens engage with social media is definitely a hot topic. Though there's been lively discussion around what is the right age to join, the most important concern with most parents is likely safety. Are the places where their tweens spending time safe? How do these sites ensure predators don't sign up? The website WhatsWhat.Me is a safe, secure, COPPA Complient, “kids-only” social network for “tweens” ages 7-13 which uses facial recognition technology, moderation and kid-friendly features to teach kids positive online behavior, Internet safety and related life skills.
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