By Anne Collier
It’s no secret to many parents of 5th- and 6th-graders that a whole lot of kids under 13 are using social network sites, where the minimum age is 13. The two main reasons, I suspect, are that 1) social networking has become pretty much a fact of life for a lot of their peers, and they don’t want to be left out, and 2) the dearth of alternatives to Facebook and MySpace. Sure, there are kids’ virtual worlds, but kids will tell you they’re not really social network sites. Enter Togetherville, a real social network site for kids 6-10. Like Facebook’s “real-name culture,” Togetherville is about socializing online with your friends and family (parents actually register with their Facebook accounts). “Anonymity, said [Togetherville CEO Mandeep] Dhillon is not allowed,” reports my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid at CNET. “The site encourages parents ‘to create neighborhoods of the real people in their child’s life to be around their kid as they grow up online’.” This is just logical to me, since social-media research shows that kids’ online experiences are not just reflections of but embedded into real life. Knowing who everybody you’re socializing with is creates trust and serves as a protection.
So what do kids do in Togetherville? They create profiles, play games, view and share pre-screened videos, etc., in an ad-free environment, ABC News reports. “There are even Facebook-style status updates, called ‘quips,’ with a twist: kids choose from a preselected menu of updates, which change daily.” Quips are a safe alternative to unmoderated chat, plus they can be helpful when you’re 6 or 7 and searching for the right words. The free site isn’t just social networking training wheels for kids; it helps parents too. Sure they’re Facebook users, but they may not have thought much about social networking from a parenting perspective. Togetherville is regular roll-up-your-sleeves practice in parenting in and with social media. A solution that was waiting to happen! [See also a review from the Wall Street Journal.]