By Sara Bernard
Technically, Facebook doesn’t allow kids under the age of 13 to register for the site. That hasn’t stopped pre-teens from simply lying about their birthdates.
But kids under 13 don’t have to be left out of the social media world. A growing number of highly protected, kid-only sites offer viable alternatives to the unfiltered Internet world out there that allow children to exercise their social media muscles (something they’re going to do anyway) without running into online predators or inappropriate content.
Of course, it’s still just as important to educate kids about Internet safety and appropriate online behavior as it is to create technological barriers between them and unsafe situations.
“As a teacher I see it as my responsibility to teach students how to engage with their peers online in a healthy and productive way,” writes teacher Catlin Tucker in response to an article about how social media is changing education. “Online communication is rapidly becoming an essential life skill. Shouldn’t we as teachers support students in learning and mastering this skill?”
To that end, here are eight kid-friendly social media options:
Dizeo: A fully-monitored site that calls itself “social networking training wheels,” complete with video and music sharing, homework help from subject-specialist tutors, and educational videos on Internet safety.
YourSphere: This one offers games, prizes, avatars, and “spheres,” or interest groups centered on sports, television, art, music, humanitarian causes, and more. Tough filters verify identities, require parental consent, perform a “predator check,” and include real, live human oversight of site activity.
ScuttlePad: Designed exclusively for kids age six through eleven, ScuttlePad goes so far as to allow “guided communication” using predefined word lists. A Facebook for the younger set, ScuttlePad lets kids connect with kids around the world, upload photos, chat, and send messages.
What’s What: Each member logs in with a webcam and facial recognition technology verifies that it really is only kids who use the site. Users are separated by grade to encourage “age-appropriate friending” and next to every message is a “Report It” button so that kids can easily get help if they feel they’re being cyberbullied.
giantHello: Kids can connect with one another, create and join fan pages, share favorite sites and ideas, and play a ton of online games. Kids user-tested the site extensively before it was launched.
My Secret Circle: This one is girls-only as well as kids-only. Girls ages eight through twelve make friends using secure “Friend Codes,” play games, voice chat, and even keep secret (but shareable) diaries.
Skid-e Kids: Expected to launch on January 7, 2011, this one claims it is “the total experience of Facebook without being on Facebook.” Features include toy and game swaps, educational questions and answers, and “movie night.”
Togetherville: A safe online experience for the whole family. Parents create “online neighborhoods” for children under ten to interact with friends and neighbors they already know and trust. Kids can create artwork, send and receive gifts, upload photos and profile information, watch videos, and more.