Star Tracks: Innovative Ideas for Publishing

Is Your Website Really Family Friendly?

by Jane Kirkland


You work hard to maintain fresh, relevant information on your Website that contains no material inappropriate for your young visitors. Do you need to do more to ensure visitors that your site is "family friendly"? You bet you do-a lot more.

Jane Kirkland

Maintaining a "family friendly" Website is a difficult chore. The first problem is to define "family friendly"-it means different things to different people. Here's a suggested list of guidelines to help you make your site "family friendly". Some of the guidelines may seem obvious to you and others might surprise you but the purpose is to get you to look at your site with a new set of eyes. Once you determine which of these (if not all) suggested guidelines are for you, you're on your way to creating a policy. Turn your guidelines into a policy then post the policy at your Website to ensure your visitors that you have standards and that you follow them.

  1. Separate the men from the boys.
    Because a children's book author can anticipate a wide range of visitors to their Website; young readers, parents, teachers, librarians, shoppers, purchasing agents, acquisitions editors, distributors, wholesalers and members of the media, it's important to clearly separate those sections. Clearly mark and link to the areas designated for kids keeping them separate from areas for shoppers, pages for the media, and other pages meant for adult visitors.

  2. Protect children's identity and visitors' personal information.
    If you post children's photos, artwork, letters, emails or stories from children, do it only with written permission from their parents and keep the child's personal information to a minimum. Don't list a child's first name and last name if you are also listing his age, city or school and location of the school. If you post pictures of children, again, don't list enough personal information to make it easy to locate the child. The Internet is a playground for predators and you don't want to help them in any way whatsoever! If you do collect personal information from a child you must follow the guidelines of The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, (COPPA) of 1998. It's your responsibility to be familiar with and to understand this Act, so learn more at www.coppa.org.

  3. Don't ask for more than you need.
    Don't require registration at your Website unless you feel it's absolutely necessary. If you do require registration at your site, create a policy and explain why you need this information and what you intend to do with it. If you have no intentions of giving away or selling the information, state so in your policy. If you think you might change your mind, state that fact in your policy as well. Post your policy at your site and link to it from your home page. On a personal note, whenever I visit a site that requires registration before I can browse the site, I leave and never visit that site again! I liken this to the experience I often have at a retail store when the clerk asks me for my phone number prior to ringing up my sale. The only reason they need my phone number is so they can target me in their marketing efforts or (even worse) sell my personal information. In the store I usually reply with a polite "it's not listed".

  4. Avoid chat rooms.
    My background is computers. I've written more than 30 books on computers and I know first hand the potential dangers the Internet holds for children. One of those dangers is anonymity-people do and say things when they are anonymous that they would not do otherwise-and many of those things are not nice! Chat rooms can be far too enticing for young people. If you run chat rooms, do it for a reason, state your reason, and make certain that your chat rooms are monitored by responsible adults watching for inappropriate language or suggestions. If you can't do all that, don't run a chat room at your site. Of course, if you want to chat with your readers on occasion and you want to run a special net meeting or opportunity to speak with the author, that's a special circumstance, but you should encourage children to attend your chat with their parents.

  5. Use ads sparingly and on the appropriate pages.
    If you accept advertisements be certain that the advertisements you accept are appropriate for visitors of any age. What will a young visitor see when he clicks the advertisement? Are there any pages at your advertiser's site that do not meet the guidelines set here or your own high standards? Is the product or service advertised at your site relevant to those who visit your site? Lastly, place the ads on the right pages-remember, it's adults who purchase your children's books, not kids-so keep the advertising on your pages meant for adult visitors and off the pages designed for kids.

  6. Keep your content family-friendly and relevant.
    This seems obvious but it's not always easy. Take this guideline to the nth degree. Don't use your Website to state your personal opinions unless those opinions are relevant to your books. It's wise not to put a political or religious statement at your site (again, unless it relates to the topic of your book) because you never know who is visiting your site and you can't know what information might offend them or turn them away. While I really wanted to post a banner for my favorite presidential candidate during the last election, I knew better. So should you. Don't entice children to your site with games that are strictly entertainment-if you want to have a games section, post games that are educational or that teach language or math skills.

  7. Respect parents and parenting.
    Whenever I am addressing a child on something that could in any way whatsoever be construed as "advice," I include the suggestion that they discuss this with their parents, teacher or adult in their family. This demonstrates my respect for parents, teachers, and the other adults who are influential in a child's life, it protects me from seeming too full of advice for other people's children; and it tells the child that their parents' opinion and advice should be put before mine. It's a simple, small practice that you can incorporate into everything you do as a children's book author. I've found I can do this without sounding condescending to my young reader-and you can, too.

  8. Mind your links.
    Does your Website include links to other sites? Be certain that those links follow your guidelines for a family friendly website. If they don't, but you still feel the link is important, explain why you are providing the link, where it will take your visitors, and why you feel it might not be appropriate for all age groups.

  9. Avoid using terms that might be filtered.
    I have sections of my site that are meant for adult audiences such as: our store, information about school visits, and a media room. I'm concerned about the use of the word "adult" too many times at my site for fear some Web spider might pick it up and that my site will somehow be deemed "inappropriate". So I don't refer to these pages as being information for "adults". Instead I say they are pages for "teachers" and or "parents". Watch the terms you use carefully so your not misread.

  10. Develop, post, follow your Guidelines.
    Once you've decided what it means to you to be family friendly, create a list of guidelines you intend to follow. Post that list (as part of or along with your privacy statement) at your Website and provide a link to it from your home page. If you need more ideas for your guidelines, visit large sites that you know have families in mind and parental controls like AOL.com or children's sites like Yahooligans.com and read their privacy and protection guidelines.

  11. Get Certified.
    Show visitors that you are serious about your Website and their children. Submit your site to Websites that monitor content such as www.familyfriendlysites.com. If approved, you'll be permitted to post their emblem on your home page. It doesn't cost a dime!

  12. Be real and reachable.
    Provide a way for visitors to reach you and your Webmaster via email, snail mail and telephone directly or through your publisher or publicist. For your own protection don't list your raw email address at your Website. Spiders can pick it up and you'll be bombarded with spam. Learn what measures you can take to protect your email address when listing it at your Website by searching the Web for the term "obfuscate email mail". You'll find tons of sites with information to help you. Email is of course, a whole other topic.



Author Jane Kirkland has written Take A Backyard Bird Walk, Take A Tree Walk and Take A Walk With Butterflies And Dragonflies. Take A Tree Walk is the recipient of the National Arbor Day Foundation 2005 Education Award.

© 2004 - 2009 Five Star Publications, Inc.
Material in these articles may be used contingent on credit given to AuthorsandExpert.com and Five Star Publications, Inc.


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