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Choosing the right websites for your kids should be easy but it isn’t. We have so many warnings about strangers, grooming, cyber bullying, stalking and inappropriate content its surprising that we don’t switch off all our computers and hide under the bed.

The thing is, if you know what to look for in a site that has been designed for kids (or says that it has been designed for kids), then you can quite quickly see whether or not it is appropriate. Some sites don’t really offer the kind of security that you need for little ones, others have too much advertising, others aren’t really ticking the boxes of trustworthy.

social networking for kids

So here are ten tips that you can follow to make sure that your chosen social networking sites are safe for your kids.

1. Can you contact them?

Check out their contact details and see how quickly they respond to emails or telephone calls before you register. This is especially vital if they are asking you to fork out a monthly sum for the privilege of using their site. A quick response and a willingness to answer any questions you may have about online security are general good signs.

2. How well known are they?

Some sites make look the business – all sparkly lights and pretty pictures – but what is actually behind the scenes. Many social networking sites for kids have been reviewed by other parents or by other websites so do an online search to see what other people are saying. Also check on the organisation running the site. Do they have a reputation? Have they got a track record in secure websites and children? Have they been in the news?

3. Child safety

While you are researching the organisation and the site, find out what track records they have in child safety. This pertains to the software they are using too – what system have they put in place to keep your child’s information secure?

4. How are members validated?

Check the registration process to see how they are assessing and validating their members. If anyone can just join the community using whichever email address they have to hand, then there is the risk that adults can join in too. There needs to be a system that determines applicants are the right age and that involves the parents in the application process.

5. How informed are you?

How are you kept informed of your child’s progress on the site? Their interactions? Sites that ask you to determine who they can talk to, what levels of security they are allocated, and to approve any images that are uploaded are far safer than those that don’t offer any limitations.

6. How is the internal communication controlled?

Most social networking sites for kids only allow children very limited online communication. They can email or IM (instant message) each other only by using specific phrases and key words that have been preapproved by the community or the parent. Check to make sure you have access to all this communication (especially for children under 13), and that children can flag up bad language or bullying.

7. Are your children protected?

Does the site offer kids tips and advice and help regarding issues like cyber bullying or inappropriate content? Can they flag up an issue with the site easily and do they feel as if their needs are catered to effectively? Many sites have trained mediators online who keep children safe and check for bad behaviour or content.

8. Who else can see their profile?

Many sites only allow other children to see or communicate with your child after you have granted them permission. This way you know the child in question, you know that they are not a security risk, and you can ensure that no strangers start chatting to your kids.

9. Seals of security

Look out for reputable security signs such as VeriSign, ESRB Privacy Online Program or TRUSTe Children’s Privacy. These are well known security systems that have excellent credentials.

10. Educational benefits

While the site may be packed full of security and all sorts of social networking extras, there is little point in going through all this rigmarole if it doesn’t actually have any educational benefits at all. Check what they offer, what they purport to teach your child, and then make your final decision based on this fact. Oh, and try to avoid sites with excessive advertising on them too.

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