You’re 10 years old. You love the idea of putting your thoughts and opinions out there for the world to see—but perhaps you aren’t quite ready for mega-trafficked social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Age restrictions set by these sites aside, you may not being thinking all that much about the consequences of revealing personal information or the risks of connecting with strangers. But, naturally, interacting with friends and being social is a big part of your tween and teen years. What do you do?
That’s the question that KidzVuz, founded in 2010 by NYC moms Nancy Friedman and Rebecca Levey, is trying to answer. The website is essentially a space in which kids between the ages of 7 and 12 can post videos with their thoughts on everything from taking care of pets to their favorite pop hits. The key difference: all posts are reviewed by trained moderators.
Like many other parents, Friedman and Levey are wary of the vast—and sometimes cruel, if not dangerous—online world. As the age at which children start using the internet continues to drop, the need for kid-friendly, monitored online environments has grown, especially with the threat of encountering cyber-bullies and child predators. But the idea for the site actually blossomed when Friedman and Levey, each a stay-at-home mom of twins, decided that, as adults, they may not be the best people to review all the children’s products they were constantly being sent because they were successful bloggers. They wondered, why not get the opinions of kids themselves? Why not let them have a voice in all this?
“YouTube is the number one site for kids 8-12, but they can’t have an account. So they’re watching these things, but they don’t [make] them,” Levey says. “Well, with KidzVuz, what’s been shocking is just how good they are at making them.”
The co-founders refer to KidzVuz as “YouTube meets Yelp—for kids,” a label that serves to illustrate the combination of learning and self-expression embodied by the website. Creativity and individual voice are encouraged, alongside a sense of empowerment. “Kids have the power through KidzVuz to upend the traditional machine of recommendations, just like Yelp has,” says Levey. “It’s no longer going to be okay for adults or giant retailers to dictate what kids want.”
Not that adults aren’t without any influence; as with most kid-oriented websites, participation is dependent on parent approval. KidzVuz sends parents a follow-up email to confirm their approval before youngsters are free to opinionate. Plus, moms and dads can rest assured that every video and every comment passes a moderator’s screening for content, language, and general negativity or unkindness before it can be shared with others on the site. So while healthy debates are encouraged in the comments, disparaging messages are simply not tolerated. And personal safety is assured; the site doesn’t allow any kind of personal information to be disclosed—real names, addresses, or even school affiliations—so kids can freely express their views without being harassed (or worse) in real life.
From sound bites on the latest trends to informational tutorials, KidzVuz truly covers it all. But while mainstays like pets, fashion, music, tech toys, and food are all regularly review, one topic that shocked the co-founders with its popularity was none other than books! In fact, they are, as parents might be tickled to discover, the most-discussed topic of all.
KidzVuz takes the educational theme offline, too. Around the country, teachers are using the site to encourage reading and writing in a fun and high-tech way. “Some kids are very intimidated to write, but talking may be very natural to them,” Levey points out. “It’s definitely been a great combination of using video to inspire writing.”
Another exciting feature of the site is its Star Reporter program, in which “kid reporters” get a taste of the real world on the red carpet, in studios, and at other relevant events. Just last month, a video of kid reporter Faith King interviewing Ryan Reynolds on the red carpet went viral, making national headlines for its “pint-sized reporter” and her confident questioning. Another KidzVuz reporter got to interview some of her favorite Broadway stars at this year’s Tony’s, including the show’s host Neil Patrick Harris.
For every video posted on the site, roughly eight videos are watched, and with thousands of videos posted to date, users can develop a real following. As Friedman and Levey describe the process, a lot of the kids are hesitant and awkward when they first start posting but get better at it with practice—then soon enough enjoy the positive affirmation of having followers who want to hear and value what they have to say.
“Our most active kids are also our most popular kids. So, that’s the best lesson that they can learn—just to be a productive member of the community and they’ll reap the reward,” Levey says.
Friedman added, “They’re really excited to share what they love with other kids—and know they won’t get views if they’re being negative.”
A final consideration that adults can appreciate: Unlike social media giants that archive user posts, KidzVuz will leave no digital footprints behind. “If you loved Justin Bieber when you’re 11, no one can search your name when you’re 14 and embarrass you,” Friedman says with a laugh.