Safe Social Networking for Kids

Posted on Dec 7, 2006 by kjarrett 2 Comments

Good morning everyone,

After my recent laments about the challenges of finding noteworthy sites to blog about, karma intervened, sending me not one, but two pointers to, a new social networking site, designed expressly for kids age 8-14. One came from Dr. Carol Ferguson, my boss (via email), and the other came from Tim Donovan, one of the founders of Imbee (via this blog). Both in the same day. Cosmic! I actually had the privilege of Skyping with Tim last evening. It was a great conversation, and hopefully the first of many.

Imbee is noteworthy from two perspectives. First, it is a viable, appealing, easy to use environment for kids hungry to connect with their friends and classmates digitally … but under the watchful eye of parents. Second, its online collaboration tools make it easy for teachers, specifically, to create safe online environments for student blogging and more.

Today I’m going to focus on the social networking aspects of Imbee. As the first (so far as I know) SN site just for kids, with an impressive (and growing) array of features designed to keep kids safe and parents informed, Imbee has first mover advantage in the marketplace. (Wow, I haven’t used that term in years.) If the rest of the world is anything like my home town, the market potential for a well designed, compelling, hip, easy-to-use and parent-friendly alternative to MySpace is HUGE. I just happened to be at the home of one of our middle school grade students yesterday, helping Mom & Dad straighten out some home networking problems. Our discussion turned to MySpace and its popularity with our kids. As adults, we cringe at the content, worrying about predators and wondering how to control and oversee SN activities. Some kids have profiles with the knowledge and (reluctant) approval of their parents. Others have them without parental knowledge. It’s the latter case that presents the most risk.

As an educator, I think education is the answer to nearly every problem we face in society today. (Yeah, I’m an incurable optimist.) So, the idea of building a site to teach kids how to use SN responsibly (and safely), as discussed in this excellent C|Net article, really resonates with me. We’ve been using the i-SAFE curriculum here at our school for years, and just coincidentally, my lessons for third and fourth grade this week are on Internet Safety. I think the education has to happen at all levels – parents as well as kids – but since I spend my day with children, they are my focus, and THEY are the ones I can reach, so that is what drives me.

To be sure, the biggest hurdle Imbee faces is the ‘coolness factor.’ Let’s be honest, much of the fun of MySpace is writing and posting stuff under the parental radar. How will the fact that parents are directly involved with a user’s profile affect the success of Imbee? For starters, some kids may decide it’s not cool, since Mom and Dad can read it, and stay away. Also, some parents, already busy beyond belief, and some with less-than-superior technology skills themselves, may cringe at the thought of supervising their kids’ online activity, and refuse to be part of the process. :(

Nonetheless, I see the Imbee being very, very popular in our town, as we have a very supportive, family-centered community. Combined with an Internet-safety campaign in school (and after school), Imbee could provide an excellent platform to TEACH kids how to behave responsibly online, while keeping them safe. Imbee’s features, including blogs, photo sharing, integrated messaging, and user-defined groups, directly appeal to the burgeoning interests and skills kids have in these areas. We need to face it: kids have enormous talents – superpowers, really – in the digital world. Talents that many that most parents can’t even comprehend. As parents, and educators, it’s up to us to show these kids how to use their superpowers for GOOD. Imbee looks like a great way to get that process started.