March 15, 2012 at 6:59 AM ET
By Heidi Leder, Techlicious.com
Even if you weren't tuned into the tech festival SWSX, you may have been thinking it would be easier to ignore social networking sites and hope they’ll go away. They won’t. The age of social media and openly sharing information to find others with shared interests beyond geography is here to stay. While navigating tween and teen years in real life can be precarious, it’s equally important these days to learn the process of “finding” and defining oneself in the online realm as well.
The best social media sites for kids and tweens (ages 7 to 13) adhere to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which regulates how much personal information sites can ask from kids under 13 years old, among other things. Like good kids' online gaming sites, most of these sites require a parental account, or for parents to prove they are who they say they are via a one-time credit card verification (typically requiring a $1 fee). It's a good step toward keeping your kids safe online.
With the popular Togetherville site shutting its doors after being acquired by Disney last year, many kids and parents are looking for a similarly safe-yet-fun place to hangout online and practice savvy social media skills. Here are some social networking sites for kids and tweens that give them some freedom to explore the social media realm while giving parents the control to monitor and guide their process:
Previously called FaceChipz, giantHello is a social gaming network for tweens that comes very close to mimicking the social networking look-and-feel of Facebook with similar profile pages and layouts.
Once you “friend” another tween, you can leave comments, send private messages, join groups, update your status, upload photos and more. Users even have a news feed and can follow tween celebrity Twitter feeds.
Kids need to share invites with their friends in real life via email or by printing out an invitation code to “friend” them on the site, so everything is connected through the “real world.”
To establish an account, parents must verify their identity via the usual credit card charge, or via the last four digits of their Social Security number. The gaming experience is similar to what you find on Facebook.
Imbee is quickly becoming a hip and trendy place for tweens to hang out, with a focus on popular media and entertainment with imbeeRadio and tween celebrity news in their imbee Wrap Up.
Imbee also has its own Web series and specials like "Schooled" by Andrew Bosch, "Mindless Behavior," "The Donkey Boyz" and "The Titus Show." Tweens can upload photos and videos, chat with other imbee friends, create their own group or join a FanZone.
A parent must open an account, and they control the security settings to ensure age-appropriate parameters for the child’s online activities on the imbee site. Only parents and friends can see anyone’s zone, or profile blog, and kids must know another tween’s imbee name in order to add him or her as a friend. Imbee is free to use, but requires a $1 parental credit card verification. The sweet spot for this site is the upper range of tweenhood: closer to 10 years old and up.
Kidsocial defines itself as a social entertainment network for kids and tweens to connect online with “real world” friends. It has the sleekest look of these social media networks, with the presence of relevant brands and branded entertainment pages. This of course, may also qualify KidSocial as one of the coolest social media networks for tweens.
In addition to the usual social network activities, while on KidSocial, tweens can challenge each other in online games, watch streaming content from Hulu, YouTube or Grooveshark via special family-friendly filters. Which again, raises the cool factor.
KidSocial is COPPA-compliant, with users under 13 years old being tethered and monitored by a parental account. Each user receives a friendship code to share with a real-life friend to connect on KidSocial, and both sets of parents have to approve the friendship online. Users older than 13 don’t require parent approval, but parents can enable it for teenagers if they prefer.
KidzVuz is a social network site where tweens can share their own video reviews about the toys, movies, books, songs — almost anything — they like or use. The site has an integrated webcam so kids can conveniently record a review without leaving their computer. Like a modern fan club community assimilator, KidzVuz gives kids the freedom to safely stay anonymous yet connect with other kids with similar taste. Users can complete missions or earn badges for posting reviews or answering surveys.
KidzVuz is designed for the under 13 year-old crew, but does require the ability to read and record a video, so the sweet spot would be about 8- to 10-year-olds. Parental oversight is required for each account, and each video is approved before posting by a trusted team of moms.
A great social media starter network, Scuttlepad gives 6- to 11-year-olds exposure to a social media network with parental approval, but no adults allowed as members. Kids can join groups and post photos or videos, and even print out “trading cards” to hand to friends in real life to get them to join them on Scuttlepad.
Each photo is manually reviewed before posting, and kids can only communicate with others through a list of predefined and approved words in a format that teaches how to build a sentence one word at a time. Using these preset words negates the possibility of negative or a cyberbully behavior.
The site is better suited for 6- to 9-year-old kids as a clean first social media experience, but the graphics and limited options for interaction with others, mean that kids may grow out of it quickly. Scuttlepad is free to use.
WhatsWhat.me takes security a step further than the other sites, requiring a webcam for kids to log in with facial recognition technology, and only allows kids to communicate with others in their grade.
A human actually double checks that the “MeKey” facial profile matches the submitted age each time the account user signs in. The site offers all of the social media main activities: messaging, friending, surfing their friends’ profiles and joining groups.
Tweens can communicate with others they don’t know on the site, but they can’t “friend” someone outside of their grade level unless a parent approves it. WhatsWhat.me costs $4 a month, or $30 for the year, and is geared toward 7- to 13-year-olds.
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