Monday, December 15, 2008

How Young is Too Young for Social Networking?


An article in the National Post today brought my attention to a new social networking Website for school-aged children. Based in England, the site (http://www.schooltogethernow.com/) brings together both parents and kids from various surrounding schools to chat, get to know one another, share photos, and, well, network. While kids these days certainly are growing up in a "web 2.0" world, is early elementary school too young for online chatting?

The site was started by the mother of a young child, who obviously believes that social networking is an inevitable beast, so you might as well get kids started young. Building relationships with working moms and dads at the school gates when you drop off the kids, she says, is often difficult, so the site helps to facilitate these relations. For the kids, the site claims to provide "fun with their friends in a safe and secure environment". It comes as no surprise that some would frown upon the activity, arguing that it could impede a child's natural development, not to mention encourage him to be stuck to the PC 24/7.

But there's also the issue of safety. While parents can link to their children's profiles and ensure that only suitable information is exchanged, I'd still be weary. I visited the site and, within 2 minutes, had created a "fake" profile for someone named "Bob" from Angus. Even though there were fields asking what school my child attended, and even what specific town I was from, I just left them blank. In defining myself, I simply chose "Other" instead of Teacher, Parent, or Child. Why is that category even an option? As icing on the cake, I even used a fake e-mail address! So it's clearly not that difficult for pretty much anyone to sign up and start chatting with your child.

On the flip side, however, if you're monitoring conversations, you can ensure that the child is only chatting with people you know, or that you can confirm are indeed in his class at school. Which leads me to the question: what's the point? If kids can only safely chat with people they know, why wouldn't they just wait until they get to school or during a live play date? I can understand the 'net taking the place of 3-hour phone conversations for early teens (I recall chatting away on the phone to friends for hours on end when I was in grade school!), and for helping adults connect with colleagues or old friends. But when we're talking about kids in grade 2 and 3, the idea seems a bit strange.

For parents, however, the concept of schooltogethernow is a great one. It's true: the last thing a parent probably wants to do when he's dropping off a child at school is get held up up in conversation with another parent and consequently made late for work. Not only can the all-hours Website help parents get to know one another (and even the teachers as well!), it can also serve as a nice way to arrange future live, in-person meet and greets.

Nevertheless, perhaps this particular cyber mom (sidenote: will this term replace the "soccer mom" 10 years from now?) is way ahead of us, and it'll be commonplace decades from now for kids to be typing away as soon as they're able to write.

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1 comment:

JET said...

Absolutely ridiculous. Want your seven year old to have a social network? Get them in sports, or art or dance. Conflict resolution, social harmony, team work, leadership, reading body language - these are all traits that are developed through social interaction face to face, not by asking what your favourite High School Musical song is from a keyboard. Not to mention the insane statistics of childhood obesity from sedentary activity.

This is just one more example of the world going crazy. Too bad children are no longer allowed to be children.