Making Social Networks Family Friendly

I’m finally settled under the dryer, the heat coming from the hair dryer is at a nice comfortable temperature. It’s soothing and if I don’t start this blog post now, I’ll be napping in a moment. The writer’s den is now open – well at least for the next thirty-five to forty minutes.

In a recent interview between Disney CEO Bob Iger and Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference as reported on Huffington Post website, Iger apparently shared thoughts about social networks for kids. In February, 2011, Disney purchased “Togetherville,” a social network for children. Although the purchase was made earlier this year, Disney, as stated to Swisher, has no plans to create its own social network in the near future.

A recent survey by Consumer Reports revealed that of the 20 million minors that actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million of them were under the age of 13. And more disturbingly is the fact that more than 5 million were under the age of 10. I share these numbers to help bring awareness to the fact that kids are already using social networks. They’re using social networks at an alarmingly high rate that seems to rise daily. In recent days I’ve noticed posts and questions about kids and whether or not there should be a kids only social network. There are naysayers out there concerned about how a kid’s social network might be a hindrance and actually prevent kids from learning healthy “face-to-face” social skills. Others suggest that it opens the door for pedophiles to have easy access to children and my favorite – a social network for kids will keep them “glued” to their cell phones and computers. Consumer Reports has indicated that 1 million underage children have been the victim of harassment and cyber bullying on Facebook alone in this past year. It almost seems as if the concern, while valid, is a mute point. Children are already on social networks, so why not design a site that is kid friendly and age appropriate?

I absolutely understand the concern and most importantly the fear of pedophiles having greater
access to kids is scary. However, as adults, we cannot abstain from our responsibilities of holding kids accountable and monitoring their actions. If a 10 year-old is given a cell phone to use while her parents/guardians are at work, then that same cell phone should be taken away at bedtime or during the hours when the family is safely home together. This has almost become a “taboo” subject. The idea of implying that parents, teachers, mentors and other adult figures should take a more proactive role in monitoring young people has sparked several debates. I’m not a parent, so I will not throw a stone and this post is not to judge. However, I ask the question, is it such a bad idea to create a social network for kids? Do we have the same concerns each time we give kids a computer, cell phone and Internet access? A social network for kids is not the issue; it’s how we proactively make sure that youth are involved in other activities.

The social activities don’t have to cease. Enroll youth in dance classes, golf, tennis and music. This is the start of summer and for New Yorkers that means lots of FREE activities such as movies in the park, Shakespeare, Museum Mile festival, dancing on the pier or a simple picnic in the park. As adults, we really can set the standard and turn off our own cell phones and computers. Decline the urge to tweet or update our Facebook status and use that time to help create balance in the lives of young people. Youth have time to keep their heads buried behind a computer screen, cell phone and Xbox because they have nothing else to fill their time with. Integrate their day-to-day activities into their social networking activities. Hold them accountable and in turn you hold yourself accountable. Disney successfully made their brand as successful because it truly was about “family.” Disney, should the company ever decide to launch a kid’s social network, has that same potential to succeed. Well, I don’t want to write a book on the subject… or who knows, maybe I do. Either way, it’s food for thought. And, we don’t have to wait for a kids only social network, there are 7.5 million kids on Facebook alone now, not to mention other social networks such as Twitter, You Tube and yes, even My Space. So, let’s build from there.

Here are some ways you can strengthen the social network bond with youth:

• Create a family page that allows young people to connect with cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings.
• Create a community page where other members of the community connect to provide updates on the latest events in the community. Schedule bowling and movie night.
• Create a private photo album that can be shared with classmates, teachers, local girl and boy scouts.
• Create a blog and write about your experience on social networks and how it differs from face-to-face interaction.
• Take a html and Application development course with your child. Conceptualize an App that you would like to see on social networks and work together to develop one.

These are just some examples. Social networks do not have to exclude family members. If used creatively, it could bring family members together, especially family and close friends who live out of state.

Well, it’s time for me to close up shop and sit in the stylist chair. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Until the next time… have a great day!

All Things Digital Conference Photo credit MathAt/AllThingsD.com

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