Q: Is it too early for my 5-year-old daughter to connect with friends online?
A: The use of technology is a common part of childhood today-in fact, 70 percent of children under 5 know how to use a mouse, while only 11 percent of this age group can tie their own shoes.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend screen time for children under 2, children can benefit from tech skills at every age and build a foundation for social networking skills long before they dive into the world of Facebook.
Face time with toddlers
Children as young as 3 and 4 can learn important basic rules about asking permission and setting time limits when connecting with family online. A Skype session with grandparents can also begin to define the most important rule for children when it comes to connecting with others online-only connect with people you know well, have a relationship with and trust. Parents can set up family sites at Famster.com and Myfamily.com and create a secure environment where children can visit with family across the country.
By 5 and 6, kids are beginning to play games online and might be connecting with friends from school or camp. While parents need to help them balance their social play online with offline play dates, time connecting with friends online can provide good practice for communication skills and social etiquette. At ClubPenguin.com, children can earn privileges for responsible online behavior. Scuttlepad.com gives kids a very basic introduction to online communication with parent-approved friends.
Learning to make decisions about who to include in your social network is valuable experience. Children can try Whatswhat.me, a social network for kids as young as 7 who can connect with others a year older or younger, or Togetherville.com, designed for kids under 10, to make parent-approved connections in an online neighborhood.
By the end of elementary school, social connections are very important to kids. They are exploring their own personal style and connecting online can help expand the opportunities for creative growth and social connections. This age group can try Everloop.com and Imbee.com, both monitored social networks specifically designed for kids 8-14.
Sharon Cindrich is a mother of two tech-savvy kids from Virginia Beach. Learn more at sharoncindrich.com.
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