Facebook is popular among people of all ages, but a growing number of sites are popping up designed for a younger audience.

ATLANTA - Facebook is popular among people of all ages, but a growing number of sites are popping up designed for a younger audience. Should you let your young child join social networking sites and if you do what should you look out for?

Social networking sites are hard to avoid. But the most popular one, Facebook, is restricted to a certain age group. If you have a child 12 and under what do you do? Do you let them lie about their age and sign up for Facebook anyway or do you go to site specifically for their age group?

An internet expert and the founder of a kid's social networking site say they both have similar concerns.

No one can argue the popularity of the social networking site Facebook. Chances are you've updated your status, tagged a photo, or raised a Farmville animal. But sites like Facebook and Myspace require users be at least 13. Up cropped sites geared toward children 12 and under. It's why parent Toby Clark says he created kidswirl.com, a kind of Facebook for kids.

"They were watching us, mom and dad, on their Facebook accounts and from day to day, they got more intrigued and wanted to be able to do the same," said Toby Clark of kidswirl.com

But is social networking a good idea for your child? We talked to certified information security expert Ben Halpert, who's written a children's book about the internet. And he says it's your choice, but before you give you child the mouse, do your homework.

"If my child said I want to go to this website because I heard about kidswirl and I heard about Poptropica -- as a parent I want to go and just see what it looks like," said Ben Halpert.

Georgia Newsday took a look at a couple of different sites and found some important differences. Kidswirl has an interface similar to that of Facebook and that includes the number of ads, which Halpert says can present a security threat.

"They're curious. They're going to click on anything. So they're going to actually leave the site. They're going to go to third party sites," said Halpert.

Other sites like Poptropica or Club Penguin look and feel a little different, a more kid-friendly appearance and no ads.

Kidswirl.com founder says the ads are necessary for revenue and that third party sites are carefully screened.

Kidswirl.com touts itself as being an ultra-safe internet social networking site specifically geared towards kids. But if you look at the homepage at the bottom you will see the profile picture and username of some of its members -- all of them under the age of 12.

"The picture is there of what we consider to be their profile picture. We make very clear upfront that any exchange of pictures or anything else will be able to be seen on the site. So that is up to the parent to allow their child to put on a profile picture," said Clark.

Both Halpert and Clark agree it's not wise to let your child have free reign of the internet. But Clark says not allowing them on the web is detrimental in the long run.

Halpert says he advocates children learning about and participating on social networking sites, but parents have to monitor the use. For more information on children and the internet, click here .

 
 
 
 

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