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I’m looking for ideas to provide appropriate and safe social networking for a student I work with. She’s in middle school and very social, but at an early to mid-elementary level academically. Because she has moved around and been in different programs, she doesn’t have many friends here yet and is very lonely. I’d like to find a way for her to connect with kids her age, but I’m worried about her safety online, especially on sites like MySpace and facebook. Any ideas?

Social networking and online communication can be a great way for kids and adults to connect with each other and make new friends, so it’s a natural choice for a student who is struggling to make friends. However, you’re right in being concerned about online safety and finding an appropriate place for a middle school student to socialize.

Many of the more popular social networking sites (MySpace and facebook) and virtual worlds (Second Life) may have questionable content. Fortunately, there are a number of new social networking sites designed specifically for teens and pre-teens. Imbee is one such site, designed for teachers, parents, and young children. As a teacher, you could also join Imbee and keep an eye on your student’s interactions to make sure they’re appropriate.

Whyville is another popular website for kids. In this virtual world, kids can create their own character and chat, play games, and engage with kids from around the world. Students earn Whyville money by playing games, can explore the town, go to the beach, start their own business and engage in a variety of other activities with other kids. There are also sites affiliated with children’s products and entertainment, such as Disney’s Club Penguin that have online games, chat, and social networking features. Club Penguin is free to join, but advanced features require paid membership, so this may be a consideration.

Before introducing any student to an online community, be sure to talk to them about online safety and appropriate behavior online. There are a variety of excellent resources online about cyberbullying, safety and kids with LD:

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