Q: Our 12-year-old daughter's friends say their parents let them lie about their age to get Facebook accounts. We don't think our daughter is mature enough for Facebook. Are there places online where kids can share their lives and interests with friends?
Nonprofit media watchdog Common Sense Media urges parents to be proactive in educating tweens and teens about Facebook because the digital footprint they create will live a long time. The organization's "Tips for talking to teens about Facebook" lists topics to cover and rules to observe -- from setting privacy controls to encouraging teens to minimize how much personal information they share. (Visit commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/facebook-tip.pdf.)
There are several tween platforms available -- YourSphere, KidzVuz, Fooz Kids, Ohanarama, giantHello, Everloop and Rocket21 -- and more emerging. (For ratings and descriptions, go to commonsensemedia.org.)
Media entrepreneur (and father) Mark Grayson says the main challenges for parents are educating their children about social media and monitoring their kids' online activities -- on a platform that enables tweens to experience the promise of the Internet, such as connecting users with mentors, while mitigating its risks.
"The web offers great promise for allowing kids to learn from the world's most interesting people," he says. "We created Rocket21.com to put kids in touch with professionals who can guide their interests and get them dreaming.
"Think LinkedIn plus Quora plus Twitter for kids. We offer 'dream big' experiences, such as going to the Grammys, visiting Kennedy Space Center, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Yellowstone Park and Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch."
The site is influenced by the research of Dr. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.
"Boyd believes shielding tweens from the Internet isn't the answer," says Grayson. "She challenges adults to provide social media platforms that safely allow kids to explore their interests with friends and connect with adult mentors. These mentors can be critically influential sources of inspiration to kids during an important period of identity formation."
Rocket21 takes kids behind the scenes of events and operations they may be passionate about (i.e., What's it like to work in professional auto racing? What questions would you ask an oceanographer? What does it take to win a Grammy?).
"We are a place where kids can hang out with peers who have similar passions and meet mentors who can encourage their dreams," says Grayson.
Rocket21 runs regular competitions. The winner of the current competition will travel to the world's largest aquarium in Atlanta and have a chance to meet former President Jimmy Carter, British entrepreneur Richard Branson and environmentalist and CNN founder Ted Turner.
The site has tested its privacy and safety technologies and procedures for more than two years.
"We're proving that there can be a safe place for kids to exploit the strengths of social media and learn personal responsibility on the Web," says Grayson.
Membership is free. For more information, go to rocket21.com.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)