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Most parents are aware that the internet does pose some risks for young ones online. Whether it is unsavoury types, inappropriate sites, cyber bullying, or any one of the worrying facets of the net, parents are often quite worried about the idea of unleashing their children onto the world wide web.

While there are definitely security issues you need to be aware of, many aspects of the internet are actually very beneficial for kids. They have at their fingertips a vast resource of information that can boost their education, support their social skills, help them to develop their creativity, and get them on track for our increasingly digital world.

Social networking is one area where kids can benefit from being online and there are sites where kids can gather around the virtual water cooler and make friends and which are protected by all sorts of extras, extras that the bigger sites, like Facebook, don’t have.

Moshi Monsters is probably one of the most popular at the moment and is utterly adorable. Kids love the cute Moshi Monsters and while they adopt and love their very own creations, they can also meet up with other kids online in a safe environment. They can also play games and do puzzles and entertain themselves nice and safely. This is a good spot for kids aged 4 and up.

ClubPenguin is the Disney-owned social networking site for kids and does charge you a nominal fee for the privilege. However, the low cost (around $5 a month) seems really good value for money when you look at the effort that has gone into protecting the kids online. There are no photographs of the kids for the avatars, they can chat with buddies using only certain phrases unless they have your clearance to chat openly, and they can send postcards to each other. Ideal for kids aged 6-14.

Stardoll is a virtual doll dressing up and designing site aimed at girls and its big sell for kids is that they have a special Kid Safe Membership option for little ones under the age of 13. This section offers kids access to all the doll related games and features, they can access other member albums and see other dolls, but they can’t write any content on their own or use the message centre to communicate with other members.

Scuttlepad is a very simple social networking site for kids that is designed for kids aged six to 11. It gives children the chance to learn the basics about social networking but won’t let them upload photos without careful prior scanning – all content is closely monitored and controlled. Children can only update their status and add comments through an approved list of words. A good place to start them on the basics of social networking without any advertising or the chance of inappropriate content.

Togetherville is another safe for kids with scripted phrases, the ability to socialise with friends but without the risk of strangers or inappropriate content. Parents are informed on all interactions and you are also in control of the friend selection process. However, you need to connect through Facebook so your kids are connected to your friends. And seeing as our Facebook friend selection processes are hardly vetted, this does pose something of a security risk.

There are quite a few other social networking sites for kids available and they all offer varying degrees of protection or educational value. I’ve chosen five of the most popular here to give you a general idea as to what’s out there but you can easily pick up plenty of others instead.

However, there are things that you need to look out for before you register your child with a social network so take a look at this article on the dangers to be aware of before you start.

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