It’s kidsville time!!

I admit it.  I gave in to my youngest child and let him get an account on Facebook. Farmville was the trigger, and though he is apparently the first among his 2nd grade classmates to play it I am not convinced he is the first one to have a Facebook account. He started by playing Farmville with his brother (6th grader) and sister (10th grader). But his network of neighboring farms is expanding to include their friends and more distant family members.

CNN titled it “Social networks and kids: How young is too young?”
They mention, among other things, Susan Greenfield who was quoted on “The Mail”, an article which I already covered in my February post. How young really? My daughter joined on 8th grade. My son at the beginning of his 5th grade. And then my youngest at the beginning of his 2nd grade. That’s probably as young as possible for a text based network.

But here are two new facts to consider:

First, the PEW report published a day after the CNN item. It’s titled “Social Isolation and New Technology” which “finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the Internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.”

The second is this item, published on National Geographic about 2 weeks earlier, titled “Googling Fights Dementia, Study Suggests”.

So let’s stop and think for a moment.

What do kids find in social networks?

I think that … big surprise, the same as adults: Accessibility. Of people, of course. Why is it OK for me to use social networks to connect with colleagues who I never met and may never meet face to face in my life, from other parts of the planet, but it’s dangerous for kids to use social networks to connect to classmates or school mates or soccer team members who they cannot meet on a daily basis after school hours?

Well I am no fool. Some people jump at this question with the dangers theme. There are many dangers lurking around the cyber corner and these are more meaningful to innocent young kids then they are to adults with some life experience or to teens with some networking experience.

Yes, some teens are more network savvy then some adults I have met. They understand what details one never reveals, what information to present or not to present in the first place, how to block unwanted communications… They know the network’s right and wrong as well as they know the streets’ right and wrong and sometimes even better. Those streets that bear dangers to innocent young kids too – so what’s the difference?

The difference is that we know the streets, we feel that we can see the streets and imagine we can anticipate street behavior. However the network is perceived as not visible and unpredictable. Personally I might be a different mom. I fear I cannot see what is happening with my kids on their way home from school. It’s about 300 meters walk, through a path between trees, and it’s scarier in my view, then the time they spend online – either chatting or on social networks.

The Internet, as I see it, is a channel of communications which is here to stay. The question we are facing now is not how young is too young, or how to control the younger generation’s use of the network, but rather – how do we make it more visible and more predictable to us, their parents.

I keep remembering this “House on the Prairie” episode “Cross Connections” where they introduced the telephone and switchboard in the town. There will always be those who abuse the innovation, but can you imagine our world without a telephone connection??

hopcc