Social media refers to the technological infrastructure that makes use of the internet to allow people to communicate interactively. With the advent of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, social media has revolutionized the way people communicate. The age range of elementary school students in the United States is between 5 and 12 years. This age group is considered ‘innocent’ and not capable of making rational decisions like adults.
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For this reason, most parents, teachers, and other concerned adults would rather not have these children involved in social media, or if they do, they must satisfy themselves that the sites are safe for the children. Safety means ensuring no cyber-bullying, interaction with potentially dangerous people, or identity theft (Hayes, 2012).
Designing a child-friendly website follows the same technical steps as designing any other type of website. Website designers, however, face a difficult task trying to meet various key objectives including making the site appealing to children, keeping advertisers interested, and gaining parental trust. Designing a child-friendly site must, therefore, incorporate these special circumstances in the design process. This paper outlines the steps followed in designing this special type of website.
The process of setting up a kid-friendly site
Gathering of Information
This stage involves the designer determining the goals and purpose of the site. The goals of the site will determine the type of discussions to be held on the site. Interactions may be educational, entertainment-focused, or open to any topic. It is also at this stage that the designer determines the target audience, which in this case is elementary school children aged 5 to 12. The content must, therefore, be suitable for this age group. Suitability is determined by understandability and age appropriateness based on societal expectations. In most societies, content depicting sexuality and violence is not suitable for children (Hayes, 2012). The designer must, therefore, ensure there is technical and monitoring capability to prevent the sharing of such content.
Planning the site
After gathering basic information, the designer should plan the site with the end product in mind. This stage involves putting down the specific content required for the site and the technology required to ensure the site is operational. The designer should create a site map (Bowlby, 2008) keeping in mind that the site should be easily navigable by children. Technologies should also be incorporated to make the site accommodate child-friendly imagery (Ovsyannykov, 2011) for moving images using flash. The site must also be usable from any browser. Navigation should also be facilitated by the use of easily visible tabs and links.
Designing the site
Once the planning is complete, the designer must now put the documentation into a visible and testable prototype. The prototype is a ‘mock version’ of the actual site created to allow for testing with the intended user. The designing stage should be both interactive and iterative. The designer must involve children in testing and observe or question them on their ability to use the site. The designer should then go back and correct any identified shortcomings of the prototype and subject the new prototype to a test again by children until a user-friendly prototype is achieved. The designer may also involve parents at this stage to test the site and determine if it would be appropriate for their children.
They may request parental and privacy control on the site which should be considered for incorporation into the site. The same interactive process should be used until a parent-approved prototype is achieved.
Developing the site
After an acceptable prototype has been developed, the designer should then begin developing the actual website. Content from the prototype is lifted and integrated into a real website, preferably in the same form seen and approved by end-users during the testing stage. The designer begins by designing a home page for the website usually named as an ‘index’ file, then a shell for user profile content that is linked to this index. The designer must ensure there is an age authentication system to ensure users are within the acceptable age range. Technologies are also applied and made operable at this stage. Any changes or additions to the prototype or content should be tested by child and adult users during and after the development.
Testing the site
At this stage, the designer checks for the proper functioning of the site as per end-user requirements. Testing is also done on technical aspects of the site such as website validation, the functioning of incorporated technologies and scripts, and compatibility with browsers. The children and adult end users involved in previous stages are called upon to test the functionality of the final product before it is launched. Once approved, the website is uploaded to a server and launched. A final test is done on the live site to ensure it is functioning online as intended (Ovsyannykov, 2011).
Maintenance and monitoring
Maintenance of the site involves follow up of the site’s performance for adjustments in case of changes in technical malfunctions, updating the content to stay current in order to suit changes in end-user preferences and changes to the site structure or content in case of changes in cultural or legal considerations.
Monitoring, on the other hand, is a role left to the parent, guardian, or teachers taking care of the elementary school children. They must ensure they monitor the children’s interactions on the social media platform (Hayes, 2012).
The process of designing a child-friendly social media site must be interactive and must involve stakeholders such as the children themselves, parents, teachers, and authorities. The success of a child-friendly site depends not only on its appeal to children but also its acceptability by stakeholders and society at large.
Bowlby, S. M. (2008). 6 Phases of the web site design and development process. Web.
Hayes, M. (2012). Kid-Friendly Social Media – Friend or Foe? Web.
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Ovsyannykov, I. (2011). Designing a Child Friendly Website (Examples and Practices). Web.