Social Networking for Tweens and Younger?

I am no longer the parent of a tween, pre-teen, teen or any reasonable (or unreasonable) facsimile (and I might add, thank God, as it’s one difficult task).  Today’s parents have no harder task than parents in the recent or distance past.  They do, however, have different challenges to meet.  One new challenge is whether to allow their tweens to connect to social networks  Let me rephrase that: the challenge is to allow them to connect safely.  We all know that tweens (and those younger) will connect to social networks whether parents are aware of it or not.

Two new social networking tween sites are ScuttlePad (designed by a Cub Scoutmaster, for ages 6-12) and Togetherville (designed for parents for children 10 & under).  ScuttlePad (about which more may be found here) launched in the last few days and designed around the interest of kids.  It may prevent them from logging onto Facebook before the “magic” age of 14.  Of course nothing prevents them from doing that now, but at least ScuttlePad offers a much safer alternative and avoids the many dangers of cyberspace that young people face.  ScuttlePad allows for silliness but it does not allow offensive posts.

Togetherville (about which more here) encourages parents to work with their children to build an age-appropriate social network.  Launched last month, it has received accolades from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  Either site provides the sort of online experience parents may wish for their young children.  As I said earlier, I no longer have young children in the home any more, so I cannot attest to the real safety of these social network experience.

COPPA, (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, passed, by the way, under President Clinton) was designed to prevent anyone who runs an Internet site from collecting any personal information on a child 13 or younger.  The law has every good intention that laws have.  It is also about as toothless as most such laws, which isn’t reason for not having it, but a reason for passing one with teeth.  Enforcing COPPA or any one of  about a dozen other such laws has been underwhelming.  The problem is, of course, that anyone can post anything online and no one is the wiser.  They can post as a mature 30-year-old when, in fact they are really just a smarter-than-average feline with broadband access.  I’ll stop there because many love the Internet because it is so free and unruly.

One last word of caution.  Once you go online, all bets for privacy are off.  Or, as many techies like to put it, “The age of privacy is over; get over it.”  Try as you might, securing your online self has as much chance for success as the proverbial snowball in that hotter-than-even-the-Palmetto-state-in-August place.  And we all know what chance snow has in the upstate even in January, much less August!

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