Well, I hope you gleaned a little info in my last post about how to take at least a few measures towards making facebook a little less public. The amount of information out there for the taking is astounding!
But lets talk about social networking and children. Facebook is not meant for children under 13 years of age... and it is my belief that parents should enforce this. But even if your kids don't have a facebook account, there are other similar things out there specifically targetted to children. By the time they are 13, they will be well versed in social networking!
Now, they are not all bad, and several of them have safeguards in place to help protect the children...but as with anything, you need to be involved and aware.
I will use one example for illustrative purposes, and that one is Club Penguin. When the child signs up for an account, they need to put in their parent's email address. The parent is to then read all the fine print, make a couple of choices about chat options etc. and then activate the account. The children are specifically encouraged to choose an account (Penguin) name that doesn't match their real name. From time to time they are approached by other penguins asking to be their 'buddy'. Once they are buddies, they no longer have to log on to the same server and be in the same place to meet up with each other. They can visit each others igloos and chat, and play some games one on one with these buddies.
At the very beginning of this experience, my children and I had a chat about talking to penguins that they didn't know. It was the same "don't talk to strangers" talk that we have with our children anyway... just in a different context. They understood clearly that their privileges would be taken away if I found anyone on their buddy list that they couldn't tell me the real person behind.
The site has a lot of very good games and adventures. Many of them develop problem solving skills. The nice thing about the games is that they don't go on forever so they can be done within the daily time limit that I give them. They earn points for the games they play and they can 'buy' things with these points such as upgrades to their igloos etc.
They can also buy merchandise that gives them a code to unlock exclusive items for their penguin. Finally, they can also sign up for a paid membership that gives them access to more virtual items and pets for their penguin that they don't get with the free membership.
All in all, not a bad site... but parents need to recognize it as a social networking site as well as a place to play games. They could possibly come across some ill-meaning stranger and need to know what to do in case they do.
Leave me your comments about any experiences you've had in this area, I'd be happy to hear about them!