Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Social Networking and you Kids (10/05)

Q: My 11 year-old recently told me about a website called “Zanga” where he can enter some information about himself and invite others to visit his own page. I’m not sure I want him to have a page yet but what is a zanga?

Charlie B. in Rogersville

A: I presume you are talking about Xanga and other “social networking” sites have mushroomed over the past few months. Friendster, MySpace and a newcomer, Facebook have recently added tens of millions of users in the 18 to 29 year old demographic. Rumor has it that Google is about to join the fray but there’s nothing official yet. These sites have created a revolution in the ways young folks interact - much like instant messaging did years ago.

A visitor to these websites can create their own little website where they can post pictures of themselves, share favorite songs and create an on-line diary that you can invite friends to view. Friends can sign your guestbook, leave comments and take quizzes that you generate yourself. It’s a fun, new way to interact with current friends and meet new ones.

This is just the beginning. The evolution of Social Networking applications will likely invade places like passenger jets, singles bars and hotels very soon. Or all this could end up being a passing fad that is gone tomorrow.

There are some concerns that you should be aware of before you allow young kids to play in this new digital playground.

My middle-schooler has a Xanga page that I closely monitor. One of the rules that I laid out long ago was to never, ever enter any personal information in areas of the internet viewable by strangers. As a result neither his Xanga nor his instant messing profile has a picture, lists only a first name, and has no hints at his street address or anything else that would help a human slimeball identify him. Despite all that anonymity, all his friends can easily find his Xanga and leave silly comments on his site all day long.

My college-age son has a FaceBook account. Instead of pictures of himself, he’s posted photos of some obese, shirtless, toothless guy - which I’m sure is one of the reasons he is currently single.

However, from the looks of some of the Xangas and instant-messaging profiles of some of my child’s friends, their parents aren’t very informed about their child’s habits. Some of the pictures of little girls on their Xangas are quite provocative. Some also post their full names, where they go to school and plenty other information that make it way easy for on-line predators to converse with them.

So, let the guy have a Xanga. Just imagine that there’s a big sticker posted on the internet that says, “Use Only Under Adult Supervision.”

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