Social Networks Just for Kids

By Jen Jones Donatelli for Tech Connect

The Pew Research Center estimates that 81% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17, who are online, use some kind of social media — but what about the tween set? Though getting your first social network account has essentially become a rite of passage, many parents aren’t sure when and where to let their pre-teens connect with others and share online.

Luckily, a plethora of new sites have popped up to cater to this younger demographic, offering a safer entry into socializing online — and more peace of mind for parents. Check out these kid-tested, parent-approved picks, all of which are Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)-compliant and are sure to have you hitting the “like” button:

Video-watching
There’s a new, age-appropriate YouTube in town, and it’s called Viddiverse. Geared towards kids ages 8-14, this video social network is a hub for curated, kid-friendly content (with much of it generated by, yep, kids). From braid tutorials to video game reviews to extreme sports footage, young ones will find all the same types of videos they enjoy on YouTube — minus the likelihood of going down the wrong kind of rabbit hole.

Photo-sharing
Imagine if Instagram was a comment-free, parent-approved zone, and Kuddle might come to mind. Before kids can start using it parents must provide email consent, and a Parental Supervision feature sends notifications every time your child posts a photo or adds a new friend. In the absence of comments, the “anonymous likes only” approach creates a more positive environment. Also, the site doesn’t allow geo-tagging, so there’s no need to worry about someone tracking down your child’s location.

Gaming
If your kid loves being in his or her own little fantasy world, Fantage or Club Penguin might be right up their alley. Both are massive, multi-player communities and paid membership sites (though free codes abound online). The former bills itself as a “safe virtual playground,” whereas the latter is owned by Disney and is touted as the biggest social network for kids. On Fantage, a big part of the fun for kids is customizing their own avatars and “attending” fashion shows and parties. Meanwhile on Club Penguin, users can personalize their own igloos, adopt pets (aka “puffles”), and become a stealth ninja or secret agent.

Chatting
Got a chatty Kathy or talkative Tim on your hands? A kid-friendly chat site like Marimba Chat may be the ticket. Developed by a father-daughter duo, this app is geared towards kids ages 7-12 and allows parents to take an active supervisory role in their children’s messaging activity — from reviewing chat transcripts in real time to limiting hours of availability to approving friend requests.

Social Networking
Parents who are wary of letting their children use social networks will appreciate the iron-clad efforts of Yoursphere. Before kids can create an account, parents must undergo a thorough identify verification process that helps weed out sex offenders and other questionable adults trying to gain access to the site. Once granted access, members ages 17 and under can enjoy features like games, special interest “spheres,” and contests.

No matter which site you permit your child to use, experts and parents alike warn that parents should be ready to take an active role in their kids’ experience. “I don’t believe any social media site is inherently safe for children, it’s how they use it and how you monitor it that makes it safe,” says social media expert Erika Kerekes, head of The Kerekes Group.

Kerekes regularly interacts with, tags, and follows the activity of her two teen boys on various social media platforms, and it’s become a healthy part of their family dynamic. “The number one way to teach social media safety is to make sure you understand how it works,” she says. “Be ready to be an active observer and monitor, if not participant.”


Jen Jones Donatelli is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author who specializes in all things lifestyle—including digital life. Her work has been published in/on Variety, MSN, Redbook, Livestrong, Every Day Connected and many more.

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