Training Wheels. Learning Something New, Socially For  one  very important reason, Google+ is the social network that a huge number of families are about to discover as a safe place to introduce their kids to social media.

Why do I believe this? I'm a parent and I know many more like me who have reservations about social media at a young age for a variety of reasons. We are a huge untapped market of families who are keeping our kids off of social networks, reluctant to introduce an accelerant to our kid's socialization. We have a sense that building the foundation for healthy relationships isn't rushed and the best learning environment is small with controls on how it grows.

We are parents, after all. It's our role to mentor our children into adulthood and we all know now that social networks are a big part of their future.

How I Introduced My 10 Year Old to Google+ and Why

My kids are on Spring Break this week and today my daughter and I set her up on Google+. She has asked for access to Facebook for years now and I have refused and continue to refuse her request. She said her friends are all on and sharing things with each other constantly. That's why I'm concerned.

Instead, we opted to break the age rules and created a Google+ account. Then we landed on 3 circles:

  1. Family - any and all family members (3 generations)
  2. The Lawson-Roaches - Just our immediate family that sleeps under our roof
  3. Following - brands and celebrities she wants to hear from

We deleted the 'Friends' and 'Acquaintances' circles that are set up by default. The rule is that, until she is 13, she adds no one to any circle without my permission. She and I will regularly sit down together and look at the brands and celebrities she has found that she likes and we'll check if the content they are sharing is good for her and why before adding them to her "Following" circle.

Our Family Only Policy

The nature of Google+ is much different from Facebook because it makes choosing who to share content with a required decision to make at the time of posting. While Facebook presents clumsy options that few users know anything about, Google+ doesn't share anything with anyone unless a person or predetermined group (circle) is selected. These "circles" need to be carefully considered beforehand so that when we have something to share we give thought to WHO we want to share it with and circles make it easy to make that choice.

There is a detachment that I see many kids (and adults, for that matter) developing when it comes to online activity. In the same way that a driver's behaviour and sense of respect, responsibility, and civility is often greatly decreased when they get behind a wheel, relating to others online can also breed a similar regard for others that is unhealthy and unwanted.

By keeping a family only policy for the first few years, the respect and high regard she has for her family will hopefully frame how she learns to socialize online by socializing first with them.  When she is eventually unleashed on peer groups and, later, people she works with and meets in her travels, this respect and responsible approach will hopefully be preserved.

As my wife has pointed out, online sharing appears to be an important tool for kids to express themselves. Social networks allow kids to discover who they are by expressing what they care about most. These expressions are played back to them in an accepted medium that is the television of their times. How might we have perceived ourselves if we saw our lives played out on TV as kids?

This is incredibly powerful! Kids need to be mentored into responsible and thoughtful use of social media, not thrown into the playground to figure it out themselves. This is a blind spot for many parents who are looking for a solution.

Facebook Twitter Google+ Infographic on Sharing

Characteristics of Conscientious Parents

Because social networking is a blind spot for most parents, the conscientious ones are cautious and careful. The deserved Google+ reputation as a platform that gives users more control over who sees what they share is slowly being discovered by this group of parents and the word will spread.

The same parents who buy organic foods, try to make ethical purchasing and investing decisions, recycle, pay attention to safety warnings, and study family vacation choices are likely to share a concern for how their kids learn social networking and I believe many of them will turn to Google+ first.

A Network Still Growing at a Manageable Pace

Google+ is less than a year old with 50 million regular users. Facebook is over 6 years old with over 800 million users. For careful consumers and children, this presents an opportunity to grow slowly with this network that, unless you believe Google is on the decline, is going to grow and become mainstream, likely in 2013 or 2014.

Be there first and use the advantages of this network to be social with your audience. The obstacles to broadcasting and advertising on this channel will do us all some good.

Are you on Google+ or do you plan to be soon?