How to Encourage Appropriate Friendships in Kids’ Online Communities

What’s a social network without friends? If an online community didn’t allow for some sort of interaction, it wouldn’t be a community at all. The problem comes when kids make friends with people they don’t know. Young kids don’t always make the best choices, which is why you need to join parents in helping kids make the right kinds of friends.

Think of a moderated community as a party with a chaperone. You’re on the lookout for anything inappropriate. Fortunately, parental controls can help you keep inappropriate behavior in check. When you allow parents to decide whom their kids can interact with online, you’re protecting both the children and the brand.

Let parents choose the kids they want their own kids to hang out with by setting limits. Offer them the opportunity to decide the ages and genders of the children their kids are socializing with. Also, allow them to receive alerts so that they know when their children make new friends.

Encourage parents to work with children on their profiles. For younger kids, it’s best not to have them put pictures up of themselves. Instead, they can use an avatar to illustrate their personality. An avatar can be a cartoon character, a picture of an animal, or anything appropriate that the child feels best represents him.

It’s also a good idea to offer parents the opportunity to limit the amount of friends their children have in the community. There’s no reason a 9-year-old should have 10,000 friends in a community. She won’t be able to interact with them all, and it’s difficult for her parents to monitor the conversations among many friends.

Consider setting up your community to monitor kids’ friendships to make sure that the matches are appropriate. If a 14-year-old boy wants to be friends with a 7-year-old girl, for example, all their parents should know. This type of friendship should be discouraged.

As you’re making your rounds, also note what’s being said. Make sure that all interaction is appropriate and that conversations are positive, enlightening, and educational. Don’t allow name-calling or bullying. Kids’ communities should be fun, not stressful.

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