There’s a new social networking site on the “net” and while it may not give sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace any serious competition, it may allow parents to sleep sounder at night knowing that their children can mix and mingle with other children in a safe environment on Mixels.com.
Not only do parents have to worry about sexual predators approaching their children online, but the Internet has become the “hot spot” for bullying. Using the Internet to participate in both these activities allows these people to hide behind anonymity, though in many cases of cyber bullying the teens are not afraid to show their face – or their true colors. Social networking sites and the Internet are a part of our child’s life, but unfortunately according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 teens has been targeted by some form of online sexual harassment or solicitation, and 42% of students in grades 4-8 report that they have been the victims of cyber-bullying.
As a result many children and teens are caught in a cycle of depression and fear that is ending in suicide across the nation. One of the most publicized events of suicide after being hounded both off line and online involved Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old who couldn’t stand the taunting emails and online messages any longer.
Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, was another such victim of cyber bullying. Clementi committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after his college roommate uploaded a video of him having sexual relations with a man. The roommate recorded this intimate act with his webcam, without Clementi’s knowledge or consent.
In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Internet safety expert and privacy lawyer Parry Aftab states; “this type of bullying amounts to torture for some kids. . . The schoolyard bullies beat you up and then go home,” but there is no place to hide from cyber bullying.
Social networking online is a part of life. Children see their parent’s use it to promote their business or to stay in touch with friends and family members. In our family the younger ones get to “see” grandma and grandpa online, everyday. As a result Mixels.com has attempted to create a social networking site just for kids ages 6-12 that will be a safe storm in the sea of Internet porn, sexual predators and cyber bullies.
Founder and new parent Giancarlo Tallarico, created the site to “offer all the benefits of social networking without any of the dangers.” With Mixels.com, you will never have to worry about who your child is talking to online,” he explains, calling it a site “Where kids mix together in a safe, secure world.”
Features on the Mixels site include: chat, games, messaging, some photos, though your child’s profile is an avatar that is an animated character. Inappropriate messages are reported to parents and if necessary to law enforcement agencies. To accomplish security, users are anonymous and parents are provided with all information regarding the account from records of chat messages to friends request. Parents can even monitor activity in real time and ad space is limited to those that Mixels is sure will not sell information to third parties.
What do parents have to say about a “kids only” social networking site?
Twenty parents (and some AC Contributors) weighed in on their thoughts about a kids only social networking site, even one that parents could real time monitor.
Out of those 20 parents the majority thought that even a “kids only” social networking site was unsafe. Some of the concerns were that bullying could occur anyway, after all, you can’t stop the messages from going on, you can only do something about it after the fact. Other concerns were that just as sexual predators will simply create their online kid only personality, as many have done on other social networking sites. Even with security features in place, it is possible to circumvent them. However, some felt that if the site was hosted by a “reputable company like Disney or Nick then that would be acceptable.”
In most cases those who had younger children were more likely to say that it doesn’t matter if it’s a kids only site or not, that children as young as 6 should not be online social networking without a parent or other guardian right there during the interaction.
Several parents of teenagers pointed out that kids don’t want to be on kids only social networking sites; they want ones like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
Homeschooling parents liked the idea of being able to use a social networking site like Mixels to help their children stay in touch with their friends outside of the home environment.
Many parents noted that there are many advantages to using the Internet responsibly.
When asked what was more important monitoring photos or written messages online, most parents said both are equally important, but that parents should also remember that a “picture is worth a 1000 words” and none can be so damaging as pictures that expose our children to online sexual dangers.
While for some parents a website like Mixels.com may be an acceptable alternative to the other social networking sites available; all the polled parents agree that there are two things that you can do that doesn’t cost a penny to make sure you keep your children safe online; teach them responsible social behavior both on and offline and keep open lines of communication so that your children share with you and their “friends” their thoughts, feelings and activities.
One parent said perfectly what many parents feel about online safety, “Kids who depend on parental monitoring alone will always find ways to circumvent the rules and that puts them at risk.” No site or parental controls can take the place of setting a good example, teaching our children the skills they need to be safe online and IRL (in real life); establishing trust and open communication and encouraging our children in age appropriate online use.
Crimes Against Children Research Center
Thanks to AC Contributors: Angela Lafon, Kay Whittenhauer, Kenzy England, Kyla Matton, Carly Hart, Lyn Lomasi,Debbie Henthorn, Karen Barnes,Jolie Du Pre, Kel McCollum, Carol Bengle Gilbert, Heather Shaw, Linda Ann Nickerson, The Barefoot and Crysta Bush for their contributions to this article.