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Kid-Safe Online Communities: Parental Permission

In most children’s social networks, online community managers require parental permission before a membership is activated. The safest networks require parents to jump through a variety of hoops before a child’s account is approved. The children’s social network What's What, for example, requires parents to submit a credit card, plus they require parents to submit three images.

Unsavory types want to give out as few identifying details as possible, so the more a social network does to identity parents and get their approval, the less likely someone who’s looking to harm children is to get in. What’s What also includes a resource center for parents so that they can find out more about the network before signing up and read up on safety issues for kids.

When planning your own kids’ community, consider taking these measures to deter the wrong people from signing up:

  • Asking for credit cards may scare off anyone who doesn’t want to leave a trail.

  • Taking webcam shots of parents deters anyone who doesn’t want to be identified.

  • Asking questions of parents that require identifying answers, such as the last four digits of a driver’s license number, may discourage anyone who doesn’t want to give out information.

  • Requiring parents to read and sign a terms-of-use agreement may deter some people, though most community members admit to not really reading terms of use.

Kids’ communities are different than adult communities. You almost want to make it difficult for just anyone to get in. So if you ask parents a dozen questions before allowing a signup, you may discourage someone who isn’t serious about participating in that community or is up to no good.

You can also use parental permission and controls for different aspects of the social networks as well. Many children’s communities allow parents to choose among varying levels of conversation. For example, kids can talk only to people they know, choose among prephrased messages, or not chat at all. You can even create an option so that parents can approve buddies so that they know who their children are talking to.

Parents can set other kinds of controls. They have the ability to allow their children in only certain areas of the networks and play certain games.

In communities where kids can keep blogs and receive comments, parents are allowed to set controls allowing all members to view a blog or to allow no one but specific friends to view it. The controls also give parents the ability to decide what types of content their kids can read while visiting the community.

The level of parental permission grows as kids grow. A 14-year-old wouldn’t have the same type of restricted access as a 9-year-old. However, it’s still up to parents to determine how much access their kids should have to any community. For this reason, parents should have options to choose among and levels of control.

For example, a 6-year-old using a social gaming community mostly to play games may have a strict level of security so that he’s not allowed to chat or interact. A 13-year-old, on the other hand, may have a softer level of control, with chat allowed but parents having the ability to approve friends.

All kids are different, and all parents know their kids better than you do. By providing them with varying levels of controls, you’re allowing parents to make the right choices to keep their kids active in the community for several years.

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