Social Media with Training Wheels
By Tracey Dowdy
According to a survey by Pew Research, 95 percent of American teens aged 12-17 have an active social media presence. That’s a staggering number and one that’s unlikely to drop off in our tech-driven culture. Trying to keep up can feel like an uphill battle, and just as our parents had us program the VCR, our kids will no doubt one day be teaching us how to program our hologram phones.
Raising kids to be tech savvy doesn’t need to be as overwhelming as you may think. Just as you taught them to ride a bike by starting with training wheels, there are social media sites geared directly to your pre-teen. Choosing the right site ensures you can feel comfortable knowing your child is learning safe and responsible online behavior.
Here are three suggestions to help get your kids started:
Everloop is geared to 8-13 year olds but kids under 8 and up to 15 can join. Parents must approve content including photos and videos and have control over any friends or groups the child wants to add. Kids can create “Loops” (groups) based on a common interest like books or music and invite friends to join. There are loads of games and apps, and users can send fun pranks called “goobs” to their friends. Aside from the multitude of fun activities, Everloop’s best feature is supervision. Parents are given tools to monitor your child’s account and the Everloop team monitors posts 24/7. (Free – ages 8-13)
iTwixie describes itself as “the safest, most empowering place for tween girls to express their real selves, share their dreams, and start changing the world — together.” iTwixie’s goal is simply to empower girls by teaching them to focus on their strengths and feel good about themselves. Instead of focusing on dating and fashion, iTwixie encourages users to post content ranging from poetry and recipes to sports and nature. One of iTwixie’s goals is to teach girls to be educated consumers, so they can shape the global market to provide products that help young women feel good about themselves. (Free – ages 8+)
Kidzworld is geared to older kids who are more familiar with social media and can be trusted with fewer boundaries. Filtration software monitors content on forums and blogs and flagged content is sent to staff members for approval. A staff member must approve photos, videos and posts submitted by users. According to Kidzworld, a staff member monitors their online chat room but parents should be aware that kids could connect in a “safe” chat room, share information and then move to another site where their activity is not monitored. Content includes entertainment and sports news, games, quizzes, contests and homework help. Parents should note Kidzworld is ad supported. Lysol, Kelloggs, Skylanders, and Wind mobile ads popped up while I was on the site. (Free – ages 11 and up)
As parents it’s important to remember that no program or third party monitoring can replace your presence both in the real and virtual worlds. Don’t take my word for it on any of these sites. Only you know what is appropriate for your kids and what fits with your overall parenting strategy. Some kids are prepared for bolder content long before others. Stay connected, keep lines of communication open and be willing to keep educating yourself.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.