Celina McPhail’s mom wouldn’t let her have a Facebook account. The 12-year-old is on Instagram instead.
Her mother, Maria McPhail, agreed to let her download the app onto her iPod Touch, because she thought she was fostering an interest in photography. But Ms. McPhail, of Austin, Texas, has learned that Celina and her friends mostly use the service to post and “like” Photoshopped photo-jokes and text messages they create on another free app called Versagram. When kids can’t get on Facebook, “they’re good at finding ways around that,” she says.
Parents checking Facebook are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. Katherine Rosman on Lunch Break looks at all the other places where kids go online and how new groups are teaching them to better navigate this world. Photo: KidzVuz.com.
It’s harder than ever to keep an eye on the children. Many parents limit their preteens’ access to well-known sites like Facebook and monitor what their children do online. But with kids constantly seeking new places to connect—preferably, unsupervised by their families—most parents are learning how difficult it is to prevent their kids from interacting with social media.
Children are using technology at ever-younger ages. About 15% of kids under the age of 11 have their own mobile phone, according to eMarketer. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported last summer that 16% of kids 12 to 17 who are online used Twitter, double the number from two years earlier.
Parents worry about the risks of online predators and bullying, and there are other concerns. Kids are creating permanent public records, and they may encounter excessive or inappropriate advertising. Yet many parents also believe it is in their kids’ interest to be nimble with technology.
Playground is a site where school kids can learn Internet literacy.
As families grapple with how to use social media safely, many marketers are working to create social networks and other interactive applications for kids that parents will approve. Some go even further, seeing themselves as providing a crucial education in online literacy—”training wheels for social media,” as Rebecca Levey of social-media site KidzVuz puts it.
Last week, 20 companies pitched online and mobile products for kids in Pasadena, Calif., at the 6th annual Digital Kids Conference. This summer, Microsoft and Scholastic will help sponsor the first Digital Family Summit in Philadelphia. Scholastic will preview a new version of Storia, an interactive e-reading application aimed at kids ages 3 to 14. “As kids migrate more to devices, we don’t want to be left out,” says Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media.
“Digital media is a great thing for kids; even a 12-year-old can have a personal brand,” says Stephanie Schwab, the founder of the Digital Family convention. Her 3-year-old uses an iPad every day. When Ms. Schwab recently wondered out loud what the weather was like, her son responded, “Ask Siri.”
FahsionPlaytes.comKids flock to sites such as FashionPlaytes.com, for girls interested in designing clothes.
KidzVuz is a social media start-up aimed at teaching kids how to create content at an early age. Kids create a profile with a handle (say, “GossipGirl”) but no name, and parents have to approve the account. Kids then create video reviews of books, films, food and clothes. There is no private messaging, and comments are actively monitored for nastiness.
The site was launched by two technologically active mothers in New York City. One co-founder, Ms. Levey, says the idea is create a safe place for children to learn how to communicate effectively and politely on a medium that will be key to their social, academic and economic li
Faith King, a 9-year-old third grader in Red Bank, N.J., says since she starting posting video reviews to KidzVuz, she has learned important lessons of film production. “You need to make sure the lights are on so people can see you,” she says. She also has learned to focus on interesting content. “Don’t review a dictionary,” she advises.
Her mother, Cristie Ritz-King, says her daughter’s love of the site has prompted many conversations about the importance of being skeptical about strangers online and questioning the accuracy of information. She wants her daughter to learn early on to be agile with social media. “It’s never going away,” she says.
The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab has created “Playground,” a social platform for school-age students. The idea is for kids to learn how to create Internet content—and to consider the implications of privacy, the permanence of a Web footprint, the basics of brand building and a little about online manners. Educators need to teach Internet literacy at an early age, says Erin Reilly, Playground’s creator. “Kids are always going to find a back door for communication and collaboration,” she says.
Along with established social sites for kids, such as Walt Disney Club Penguin, kids are flocking to newer sites such as FashionPlaytes.com, a meeting place aimed at girls ages 5 to 12 who are interested in designing clothes, and Everloop, a social network for kids under the age of 13. Viddy, a video-sharing site which functions similarly to Instagram, is becoming more popular with kids and teenagers as well.
Some kids do join YouTube, Google, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, despite policies meant to bar kids under 13. These sites require that users enter their date of birth upon signing up, and they must be at least 13 years old. Apple—which requires an account to download apps like Instagram to an iPhone—has the same requirement. But there is little to bar kids from entering a false date of birth or getting an adult to set up an account. Instagram declined to comment.
“If we learn that someone is not old enough to have a Google account, or we receive a report, we will investigate and take the appropriate action,” says Google spokesman Jay Nancarrow. He adds that “users first have a chance to demonstrate that they meet our age requirements. If they don’t, we will close the account.” Facebook and most other sites have similar policies.
Still, some children establish public identities on social-media networks like YouTube and Facebook with their parents’ permission. Autumn Miller, a 10-year-old from Southern California, has nearly 6,000 people following her Facebook fan-page postings, which include links to videos of her in makeup and costumes, dancing Laker-Girl style.
“Autie’s Freestyle Friday Dance Channel” on YouTube has nearly 13,000 subscribers and hosts 39 videos that have logged in excess of 3.5 million views. (article continues at WSJ )
Where the Kids Are
• KidzVuz. Social-media site where kids create video reviews of books, ﬁlms, food and clothes.
• Instagram. Photo-sharing app being acquired by Facebook. Some kids worry it will lose its cool.
• Viddy. What Instagram is to photos, Viddy is to video. Tweens say their friends are ﬂocking to it.
• Playground. A site intended to teach kids how to create and be responsible with social media.
• Club Penguin. Disney-owned site with safety controls embedded in its technology. Kids can connect and chat but only type certain words and phrases.
• FashionPlaytes.com. Girls ages 5 to 12 meet here to talk fashion. Site lets them design and order custom-made garments.
Write to Katherine Rosman at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared May 2, 2012, on page D1 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tweens’ Secret Lives Online.
——————— (RTP)————————————————– (blog notes below) ———-
So…wow, it’s clear that the digital revolution is creeping into younger and younger territory in our homes. Parents, we need to stay “Up” on the digital and social media trends, sites and patterns that our kids are plugging into…. if we don’t someone else most certainly will. One of the reasons we’re working so hard at iShine to provide a Faith Based alternative to families for online content and social media. To see what we’re up to… (Shameless but rare plug, goto www.ishinelive.com)
Peace Out and be encouraged fellow RTP’s…. remember the words of truth in scripture, as you seek to lead your families forward in faith,
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV) for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control…
PS – A huge “Thank You” to my mentor, friend and boss…. Tom Johnson for the great “heads up” on this article…