As you know although I use both social media and networking sites, I dislike the way they can make certain users 'anti-social' because they become almost addicted to the social media world rather than living in the real one. However is this the same for children or can social sites be educational?
My own children use social networking sites specifically designed for younger children (under 13's). They use Neopets, Whyville and MoshiMonsters. They use Neopets less and less now as they concentrate on Whyville the most. If you ask them why they like Whyville, their answers differ. My eldest likes the joining all the clubs within Whyville itself and my youngest likes chatting to other children in the US, as we are in the UK she finds it amazing that she can talk to other kids around the world. But is this doing them more harm then good?
I am quite an old-fashioned Mum. I like my kids to be polite, to eat all their food (you don't eat your dinner, you don't get your pudding!), to do their homework as soon as they get in from school so it's over and done with etc. But I do let them use the family computer a lot as they use laptops at school and they need to know how to use one, not to mention, the need to learn internet safety.
The reason why I like Whyville, more than the rest of these 'kiddie safe' social networking sites is because each child has to go to Whyville School before they can use the site, the school teaches them internet safety and they have to pass a test before they can use the site.
But do kids social networking sites offer any other educational purpose? Suprisingly yes. Most of these sites, use a form of currency to buy things in and around the site. For example, Neopets uses Neopoints which you earn from playing games, selling items and going to work. Whyville uses clams, earning them by playing games and working. MoshiMonsters uses rox, again earned by playing games and working. This teaches children the value of 'money'. In each of these sites their are a multitude of games to play, this helps with co-ordination, reactions and spacial awareness. Some of the games are trivia based so this also helps to get them thinking.
All of these sites have methods of communication, whether it is talking directly to a person on Whyville or using 'neomail', Neopets own email system, to talk to one another. This helps with basic PC and typing skills, not to mention spelling, grammar, social interaction and internet safety awareness.
My children are 'timed' on the PC. This way I can see and limit how much time they are spending on these sites and because I have two children, it is a fair way of giving them equal time on the computer.
So as long as you kids are internet aware and you can sit down and supervise them, they can actually learn from these sites, although don't tell them that!