"Like it or not, preteens want social networking," says Parry Aftab, author of A Parent's Guide to the Internet and founder of the online children's safety organizations WiredSafety and StopCyberbullying. "And until or unless Facebook creates special family accounts or a special Facebook for preteens, there is a need and a market."
The need is undeniable; the market potentially huge and lucrative. Companies are gearing up for this gold rush by creating websites strictly for children, and websites that allow parents to create profiles for their kids.
Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media — an independent group that reviews the media in kids' lives — keeps an eye on kid-oriented social networks.
"The key to all of this for parents — for getting the most out of social networking and all technology," Knorr says, "is understanding the technology, setting usage rules, setting privacy settings and, most importantly, training your kids to practice responsible online behavior."
Kids have a hard time, Knorr says, "really understanding that anything they say or do online can get copied, forwarded and used by other kids. Kids can't fathom the vast anonymous audiences on the Web. As parents, you can get them to think about their digital footprint and what kind of trail they're creating."
The group's website provides tips for parents with young kids, middle schoolers and teenagers. And it offers a list of some recommended social network sites for kids:
1. ScuttlePad (2010) Age 7+
Social network with training wheels is safe but limited.
2. Togetherville (2010) Age 7+
Kids' social site connects to parents' Facebook friends.
3. WhatsWhat.me (2011) Age7+
Tween social network with top-notch safety features.
4. Yoursphere (2009) Age 9+
Kid-only social network promises to block dangerous adults.
5. Franktown Rocks (2009) Age 10+
Music and social networking combine in safe, cool hangout.
6. GiantHello (2010) Age 10+
Facebook-lite gets a lot right, but watch out for games.
7. GirlSense (2009) Age 10+
Safe, creative community for tween fashionistas.
8. Sweety High (2010) Age 11+
Fun, closed social network for girls is strong on privacy.
9. Imbee (2011) Age 10+
Safer social networking if parents stay involved.
10. YourCause (2009) Age 13+
An easy, fun, socially networked way to fundraise.