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Here Be Dragons: Where Your Kids are on the Internet

Kids using computersMy five-year-old recently used some of her carefully hoarded birthday money to buy herself a Webkinz. She generously bought one for her little sister, too. The girls have spent the past week naming, cuddling and grooming this fluffy stuffed critters. They’ve made collars and bracelets and hats for them, all with matching sparkly beads and ribbon.

Luckily for me, I don’t think either girl has realized yet that there’s a Webkinz website where they can extend their play into the Intertubes. It’s only a matter of time, though.

Once they do start socializing online, I’ll be able to turn to helpful resources like CNN’s recent report about kids online. The report tells us that kids are using social networks on the Internet in ever greater numbers. They also reveal the shocker that kids are flouting age restrictions on sites like Facebook and Myspace. Social networking starts younger every year. There are sites devoted to social networking for kids as young as five.

To learn something I didn’t already know, I followed BlogHer’s Susan Getgood over to Radical Parenting, a site that offers up parenting insights from a kid’s perspective. A host of articles awaited me there, offering tips for parents and kids on how to deal with everything from “cyberbullying” to “social networking fatigue”. I don’t think my five-year-old has hit the fatigue point yet, but I did bookmark the site for later.

My only pressing concern about my kids and computers right now is keeping them playing outside, actively using their imaginations instead of being passively entertained. So far, they’ve been pretty compliant about that. I expect the fight will get harder when they learn to read and type on their own. It’ll be even harder to pry them away once they realize there are Other People on the other side of the screen, and that some of those people are their friends. I know how hard it is to pry myself away from the laptop to go indulge in a little real life.

For now, though, they’re blissfully in the dark about Webkinz World. I just have to keep them playing outside till bedtime so they’ve won’t notice what they’re missing on the Web.

What about your kids? Do they use social networking sites? What age should kids start socializing online?

Photo: San Jose Library

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