Now entering the growing market of social networking sites aimed at making parents feel like their kids are safe, safe, safe: Kidswirl. Clearly modeled on Facebook, Kidswirl won’t fool your older child but might help you keep your younger kids (say, under 11) from figuring out about the real thing. It’s hard to figure out, though, what the real differences are. The interface is a complete lift from Facebook — unless they have prior legal permission, I’d bet it’s likely they’ll be sued soon. But the site’s PR wants to assure you that it’s, like, a zillion times less potentially offensive and dangerous:
The number one priority of the site is KID SAFETY! As a result, we have
blocked all bad language, inappropriate and suggestive phrases, and any
other word usage that is requested by the parents and users.
So, what if some parents request that word usage like “trans-kid” or “gay teen” is blocked? How “safe” is the space then? Is profanity itself dangerous to kids, and if so, how? I’m pretty sure bullying and harrassment (the main sources of danger to kids online as well as offline) don’t require profanity to work.
And what about the other danger so frequently cited in pleas for more kid-safe online spaces — that of creepy adults who would want to interact with kids online? As much as the research I’ve read indicates this is a tiny, tiny problem, I actually can’t tell whether Kidswirl provides real safety from it — I just signed up and got an account and all of a sudden my newsfeed features updates from dozens of real live kids who I don’t know! And I can see their entire profiles! As a mother who actually doesn’t find the online world any more dangerous than the offline one, even I find this a bit troubling.
Bottom line: if you think protecting your kids from “bad words” is among your highest parental duties, Kidswirl is for you. Otherwise, maybe you should do what the experts suggest: talk to your kids about how to manage their online relationships, make sure you understand what they’re doing and set appropriate limits, and more than anything, listen to them. It’s kids themselves, not grownup marketing types, who can really educate parents about what’s going on in their worlds, virtual and real.
More by this author: