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Friday, February 25, 2011

Togetherville: What Parents Need to Know

California-based Togetherville launched last year as a free online neighborhood where children ages six to 10 years of age can virtually mingle with friends and "approved" grownups.  "There are no strangers, no avatars and no anonymous usernames in a Togetherville neighborhood," the service explained at its website.  "Only a parent can create a child's account, and parents are encouraged to use a child's real name and photo to build and foster real-world relationships."

[Source: by Jacqueline Rupp]

Parents need to know that this site is designed to be an introduction to social networking -- Facebook with training wheels, if you will. Positive features include super-safe posts that use scripted phrases, and the ability to socialize with known friends -- without stranger-danger and inappropriate posts. Parents are kept on top of all interactions and have control over the friend selection process. But because Togetherville trains kids in the ways of social networking, you'll have to think long and hard about what age you want your kids to start. Parents also need to be aware that an adult Facebook account is required for the creation of children's accounts on this site.

Families Can Talk About...

Talk to your kids about the media in their life. These tips that can help:
•Families can talk about the rules of social networking. Whether sites have safety nets or not, what are some ground rules for safe socializing online? What are some pieces of information that are strictly off limits.
•Families can talk about the drawbacks to social networking. Is it something elementary-school aged children should be focused on, or are there better ways to socializing, like playing together outside? What happens to our communication skills if we spend too much time in front of a screen? Do you think it is as fun to chat with someone online as it is to do so in person?
•Families can talk about setting time limits on digital entertainment. How much is too much time for an eight-year old to spend online? What other forms of communication and entertainment are you giving up if you focus too much on online social interactions?

Whats your opinion on Togetherville?  Is 6 years old too young for social networking, even in a seemingly "protected" virtual environment?

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