What Should a ‘Parent Resource Center’ for Social Networking Contain? [INTERVIEW]

A new study in the U.K. found that half of parents with children aged 5-15 and 70 percent of parents with kids ages 12-15 admit they know less about the Internet than their children do, even as the number of kids online keeps growing, and the dangers for kids online get worse. What do you believe a parent needs to know when it comes to social media and kids?

A new study in the U.K. found that half of parents with children aged 5-15 and 70 percent of parents with kids ages 12-15 admit they know less about the Internet than their children do, even as the number of kids online keeps growing, and the dangers for kids online get worse. What do you believe a parent needs to know when it comes to social media and kids?

As hackers and scams become more complex, is it enough for parents just to know the difference between ‘texting’ and ‘friending,’ or a ‘wall post’ and a ‘tweet’?  We posed that question, and more, to Katie Greer, Director of Internet Safety for WhatsWhat.me, a newly launched, Facebook-lite social network site for the middle school set.

Greer is also the brains behind the site’s Parent Resource Center (PRC), one of the few, if not the only, one-stop, comprehensive resources available on the Web for social networking novice parents, or just parents with a lot of questions.

The site, and the PRC, are still in Beta version and will continue to evolve, so read our interview and then tell us, social media users, what should a social network-centric ‘Parent Resource Center’ contain?

ST:  How did the idea for a ‘Parent Resource Center’ originate?  Was it created based on user demand, or something the site’s founders had always envisioned including on the site?

KG: Our CEO Vincent Cannistraro, a father of three, had this idea all along, as he wanted a safe social networking site for kids, but didn’t want to leave the parents out. One of the biggest components of WhatsWhat.me is education; with that in mind, he wanted a place parents could go for Internet safety education. Through our discussions, we realized that there wasn’t one place where parents could go to get all this information, so he tasked me with imparting my knowledge in this space for parents. The concept of the PRC started out small, but has and will continue to expand into other resources for parents in addition to Internet safety and technology information.

ST:  What were the first steps in creating the PRC?  How did you decide what topics to cover and what issues to highlight?

KG: The PRC was started as a small site with some good resources and articles.  It’s since grown into a place where various WhatsWhat.me employees contribute articles and content, and has expanded to include things like podcasts, a glossary, and an Ask the Expert area where parents can directly ask our expert questions relating to safety and technology.

A lot of topics that the PRC covers are driven by what’s happening in the media and in the world of technology. The media drives many stories about technology that we can then expand upon and explain either in articles we cover or podcasts directly addressing the components of what’s been in the news. It’s a goal of ours to use the PRC to appeal to a broad audience: those who are overwhelmed and confused by the current technological trends, and those who are immersed in it. Where the media tends to point out the current issues and problems that are arising with kids and technology, we try to educate parents and let them know what they can do about these things as they come up.

The PRC is designed to be a valuable resource for all parents, not just the parents of our members.  We realize that there are many others with areas of expertise, producing excellent content as well.  We feel it is our responsibility to collect and curate links to these articles, white papers and studies, so that parents can be secure in the knowledge that they have a trusted resource where they can stay informed about this broad topic.

ST:  What kind of response have you seen since the launch of the PRC just one month ago?

KG: It’s been great.  We’ve seen a consistent traffic increase week-over-week on the PRC since its launch and expect this trend to continue.  Parents seem to appreciate they weren’t totally left out of this process; we’ve created a safe and secure site for kids ONLY, but we found it just as important to give the parents the education they need to steer their kids in the right direction when it comes to technology and their activities online. Today a lot of kids are getting into trouble because their parents are turning a blind eye to what they’re doing online and on their cell phones – not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand. Our hope is to give parents a better understanding of what’s going on, and how they can keep their kids safe.

ST: Which topics do parents seem most concerned, or confused, about?

KG: There are a lot of questions around technology aside from the Internet, such as cell phones, iPods and live gaming. The focus has long been on Internet safety education – and that’s still very important. However, as kids’ activities have shifted from the home computer to cell phones and portable devices parents are asking a lot of questions about how they function, when they’re appropriate, and how they can let their kids safely use these technologies. We feel that with all the information and articles out there, the “Ask the Expert” section is a place parents can go to ask these specific questions as opposed to weeding through thousands of search results on Google, and the answers are from a recognized expert in the field of technology and Internet safety.

ST:  What are the top one or two things a parent should look for when choosing a social network for their kids?

KG: Parents should look for the age constraints and their privacy policies. A lot of kids are getting on social networking sites that they’re not allowed to be on, as the minimum age is 13.  Also, parents should educate themselves on their privacy policies before letting their kids participate. Even some sites that are specifically for kids under the age of 13 are severely lacking when it comes to what information they share with the public.

Here’s a good test for parents: Get on the sites yourselves. What type of information can you see? If it’s a site that is for “kids only”, are you able to log on as a kid? Are you able to see other kids’ information? If the answer is yes to either of these, serious red flags should go up.

WhatsWhat.me believes it is important to give kids full control over their personal and shared information, which is why the site is structured so that only accepted or invited WhatsWhat.me members can see the information they post, and there is also grade-based separation to ensure that the content is always appropriate. Many sites for kids under 13 have no restrictions, making the information that kids share on these sites extremely vulnerable and public in many instances.

ST:  Once parents, hopefully, feel more educated and knowledgeable through online tools like the PRC, what types of in-person, real life conversations should they have with their social networking kids?

KG: We encourage that parents talk to their children and actually sit with them periodically to see what kind of sites their kids are frequenting and discuss why certain sites are not safe.  In all our communications with parents, we strongly recommend parental involvement and education about the devices their kids are using, learning about parental controls, and to have open discussions with their kids about cyber safety and positive online behavior.

Tell us what you think.  Does WhatsWhat.me get it right with their Parent Resource Center? What else would you like to see in a social network-centric ‘Parent Resource Center’?