Yesterday Google opened up its social network Google+ to teens. Unlike Facebook, which allows anyone who is older than 13 to join in the fray (and figure out the ever-changing privacy tools), Google till now insisted its social network was for adults (18+) only. Everyone knows these age limits don’t stop kids from using these sites. Millions of kids younger than 13 use Facebook -- 7.5 million of them according to Consumer Reports. But by not allowing the young set to play, the sites protect themselves from having to act as babysitter.
Google+ is now officially inviting the teens – not kids younger than 13 – to join because it prepared some training wheels, warnings, and safety measures to teach teens to network safely. When you join using your real age – if you are a teen – you’ll find yourself enjoying a slightly more conservative and helpful Google + than adults get. Mostly the differences take the form of added guidance and more cautious default settings.
For example, if you are a teen (and you entered your real birthday when you signed up), you’ll automatically get pulled out of a “Hang Out" (group video chat) for a quiet talk with a Google+ warning if someone you have not added to your Circle joins the conversation. You can rejoin the chat if you recognize and welcome the new person. But if that person is someone you’d rather avoid, you can use this opportunity to make a quiet exit.
A similar thing happens when a teen is about to post something in a public place. It doesn’t prevent the post. It just offers a moment's pause and points out that some things are not meant to be so public.
I think social networking has enormous potential for teens. It makes it easy to stay in touch with people they meet in the real world and to connect with like-minded people who don’t live nearby – including family – but it does often offer some often difficult and too-public lessons for inexperienced users. Offering some built-in guides is a good idea. In fact, I know some adults who could stand for a little counsel on what’s too much information and how to exit gracefully to avoid a fight.
Even with the added hand-holding, I think teens (especially younger ones) need guidance and supervision from their parents when it comes to using a social network. I invited both of mine to join my Circle on Google+. I'm very careful to stay out of their way on Facebook -- so I don't get unfriended -- and I'll do the same there.
Will they join? There is no telling. But getting an invite from Mom certainly isn't going to make it more appealing.