Suddenly, I’m feeling weird about how little I consider online security. After reading in a USA Today story about how identity thieves and pedophiles are slowly infiltrating social networks to gain access to identities or little kids, it dawned on me how I spend roughly 0% of my day worried about this sort of thing. Every month I pay bills online, and many of the student loan payments I make require a social security verification prior to each payment. But that worry pales in comparison to what kids are apparently up against.
As the USA Today story explains, social networks are “cool,” and that means kids of all ages want to be in on them too. This seemed fine until I remembered some of the horrendously creepy messages that used to float into my MySpace account back in the day. That place was the Wild West of seedy social networking, or it felt like it as a teenager at least.
Having said all that, I think there’s a middle ground of apps that can get younger kids in on the social networking fun without necessarily exposing them to the growing underbelly of Internet undesirables. Some are cooler than others, sure, and while none have a Facebook-style social cache, they could at least act as a tool for parents to slowly ease their kids into social networks while offering an opportunity to explain to them the dangers and responsibilities inherent in the whole enterprise.
Take an app like BeeKind. I wasn’t even necessarily a fan of the sloganeering, daily affirmation style of the app, but I read enough yearbook quotes in high school from girls telling their friends to “dance like no-one is watching and love like they’ve never been kissed” (or whatever) to realize there’s a market for that. BeeKind would allow a kid to join a live conversation (the RSS feed on the app) and essentially participate in a very restricted social network. Little personal information is exchanged other than the acts of kindness you choose to share with strangers. It doesn’t get much safer.
For young people less inclined to read about good deeds and more into music, SoundTracking comes to mind as a rather private social network. It’s much more of a “gateway” app, given its links to Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, but it could just as easily be a self-contained network where kids dish on what music they’re currently listening to. The profiles that are filled out don’t have to be very thorough, and although there’s a commenting system for each post, you don’t really see posts from people that aren’t your friends on the app to begin with. This, again, makes the network much more closed-off and easier to monitor for parents.
I’m not saying kids needs to be on social networks. Frankly, I think they’re better off enjoying a real network of friends outside (gosh, I feel old). But if parents are comfortable with their kids out on the Internet, there are many options that don’t have quite the freedom and terror that many news stories associate with social networks. And with that battle out of the way, parenting should be a breeze. Am I right or what!?