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5 tactics to safely engage children in social networking

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

June is Internet Safety Month, so today’s guest post from Layla Masri of Bean Creative is a timely one. An avid SmartBrief on Social Media reader,  Layla works with child-focused clients such as PBS Kids, the world’s largest children’s museum (The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis) and classic children’s programming such as “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Reading Rainbow.”  Layla and Bean Creative advise clients how to help children take part in social spaces while keeping them safe.

From easy computer access to the “passback effect” (parents passing their mobile devices to the back seat of the car to keep children occupied), children as young as  age 3 are preparing to take part in the social-media revolution. The good news and bad news is that children are natural socializers and are rarely shy about sharing all sorts of details. While these traits makes them a perfect fit with the social world, such openness and sharing of personal information and photos can be dangerous for children online.

So, how do you provide social satisfaction to children while keeping them safe? The answer is to create “social-networking lite” options within children’s favorite online spaces. Here are five clever ways to engage young audiences safely:

  • Provide scripted interaction. The Disney-acquired Club Penguin provides opportunities for self-expression by providing character catchphrases. In this way, the site allows the feeling of conversation without actually allowing children to have their own conversations or exchange any personal information.
  • Moderate forums. There are some things that a computer can’t do. Club Penguin gets more than 6,000 kid e-mails a day and each and every one is answered by a real, live person.
  • Offer real-time activity. On the environmental-themed EekoWorld website for PBS Kids Go!, the points that each player earns contributes to the World Health Score, encouraging community by aggregating the collective action of the site’s players. In addition, the popular EekoWorld interactive creature-maker game provides a Team Play action within the game — it lets children collaborate real-time online on eco-friendly actions to raise the game’s World Health Score. It’s so popular that children sometime write in to complain that it’s hard to be the first to start a Team Play event.
  • Minimize exchange of personal information. To keep in line with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rules and protect identities, all sites for children should allow children to identify themselves with their first name only. That means absolutely nothing goes online without being read and approved by a real human being first — every user login and every post.
  • Include ample parental oversight. Togetherville is a new social-networking service to provide a training ground where parents can be highly involved with their children’s online ventures. To teach children how to use these social tools appropriately, parents are given their own login where they can access their child’s account and activity, as well as interact directly with what the child is doing.

The key thing to remember when it comes to children and social media is that parents should always have a very good idea of the games, people and sites their children visit, regardless of age. Parents need to know the terms and conditions of the sites their children visit, and have access to all passwords for their accounts.

While it’s important for children to gain 21st century skills, the most important role for a parent is keeping their family safe. For more information on how the transformation of making private lives public can affect children, check out Growing Up Online, created by the PBS program “Frontline.”

Image credit, iStock