When I speak with parents there is a universal inquiry expressed with hesitation, forlorn and sincere concern about what age is the right age to allow kids to have mobile devices and engage in social media.
Our parents perhaps worried about whether we were skilled enough to drive the car on our own and when to allow us to walk to school or the store, or take the bus without an adult. Today the dangers of teen driving are compounded by the compulsion to respond to texts while behind the wheel; or to accept friend requests from people we don’t know because they associate themselves on-line with people we do know.
For certain this first generation of parenting digital natives is in uncharted territory.
Missing are rites of passage with regard to preparing children for the cyber wilderness. And yet we are thrust into the digital fast lane with children placed in the driver seat as more children log into social media apps that are really meant for adults.
The pressure to issue mobile devices to youngsters is fierce. It has fast become more than a status of “being someone”, but also considered an essential tool for actually being in community. Parents explain that their children are isolated, left out if they are not texting. Even the parents of their children’s friends expect that all kids have the same cyber tools and apps to communicate, edging out the role of the parent who relies on children to be the primary communicators of plans and events.
For some it can feel like living in a foreign land if you are not communicating with the same apps.
Drawing the adult app line for Facebook/Tumblr/MySpace/Twitter
I believe that the adult social media apps are inappropriate for youth under 16 years of age. For better or for worse, we have declared 16 years the legal age to drive a car and at the very least I would caution parents to insist on a similar boundary for social media complete with training and oversight.
It is true that mobile devices and social media are an integral part of the social experience of our modern culture. And it is challenging to find youth-centered alternatives approaching the gravitas of the major apps.
So I was excited to learn about YourSphere.com, a “kids-only” social media platform, that is built by kids with security provided by adults. It is gaining notoriety and momentum as the go-to community platform for major media sources including Kabillion, AllyKatzz, GeoFreakz (CCI Entertainment), AYSO Soccer and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center (Kids’ Cancer Corner).
Spheres of interest include: fashion, movies, music, gaming, sports, etc.
I met YourSphere founder Mary Kay Hoal through LinkedIn and came to quickly appreciate the level of sophistication she has applied to a “kids only” network solution. She founded YourSphere.com as a safe, secure place where kids could hang out on-line and experience the same functional freedom of communication afforded by Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr, and Twitter; the solution had to be compelling and attractive to youth.YourSphere appeals to parents because much like we would expect to see adult supervision off-line, the parents and supervising adults operating the network are in the background, making sure the children’s territory is free from nefarious characters and negative content. There is guidance and boundary-setting for security that the adult social media apps cannot provide children.
All content is age appropriate and the community is growing as more young people recruit their friends into this network. The advisory and editorial board is staffed by youngsters.
Often good parenting is performing like a utility, monitoring for security behind the scenes. The kids know you are present, but your presence is not a dominating feature affecting their experience with their peers. YourSphere facilitates this experience for parents, and there is a peace of mind in knowing that your child is getting on-line social experience necessary to be a responsible cyber citizen – in a secure environment.
Mary Kay joined Joanna and Jodie on TheFish103.9FM Tuesday