Four years ago, the social network Lego Life was born. The app, designed for children ages 5-13, was a creation that the Lego company guaranteed, from the start, was safe and met all the highest standards of privacy and computer security.
Lego Life contains a whole series of features that seem to have been created specifically to reassure parents: the creation of an avatar instead of registration with personal data; the verification and preliminary check by Lego staff, before uploading any images; the presence of a character called "captain" who, via message, warns users and supervises them as they navigate the app; lastly, the ability to comment, which is controlled by a filter which weeds out indecent or offensive comments. According to the Danish company’s slogan, this new digital world seeks to further inspire our children’s creativity.
But at this point, it's probably worth asking a few questions about Lego Life. First, is Lego Life really a child-friendly social network? And second, is Lego Life all that safe?
Regardless of all the services that this app offers, we should consider whether the Lego company’s intentions are so disinterested and, above all, if social networks in general are suitable for children.
Playing with Legos is like a rite of passage for children, who no doubt recall little bricks lying around the house here and there. It was a game we all played indoors – creating, breaking it down, then recreating something new. That was the magic of Legos! So, in our opinion, children don't really need to be on the internet where they are told how to build something and then upload it online. It seems to be more like something that we adults have artificially created for them.
It would be a real shame if such a creative, hands-on game with colorful mini blocks took a back seat to cell phone screens. Knowing how addictive electronic devices and the internet can be, wouldn't it be better to offer children alternatives before sending them into the trap of electronic games?
And that’s not all! There are studies that prove social media is a threat to young people's self-esteem. That "like" button affects much more than we can imagine. The moment a post or an image is uploaded, we subconsciously expect that there will be a positive reaction. And our children are not immune to this. They too, like adults, want to be accepted and well-liked in the virtual community in which they are immersed, waiting for that moment when they get a “like” on their post… this will ultimately either make them feel good or deflate their self-esteem.
Then there’s the problem of privacy, which we’ll explore in just one example. Suppose that one afternoon, two kids meet in a park. Even though they may share the same games that afternoon, they will still be strangers. Now let's see how the same situation plays out on social media. Someone we don't know sends us a friend request. Do we accept it? Most likely, if we have things in common, such as a passion for playing with Legos. After all, isn't that the same thing? So why do we shy away from real friendships and accept virtual ones?
Also, if we allow our children to become accustomed to interacting with others through a screen, they will miss out on the chance and joy of interacting with a friend face-to-face. If they become used to “playing games” by uploading their artistic creations online, they will begin to depend on the screen for everything.
At this point, the answers to the questions we asked at the beginning seem to be coming to light. It's not a question of whether Lego Life is safe or not. A social network in and of itself is not safe for children. And it's not just about cyber bullying, which is, in any case, still a possible threat lying just around the corner. There's another kind of safety we don't talk about: the protection of our children's psyche, their mental health, and value systems.
Canadian educator Catherine L'Ecuyer has done numerous studies and publications on these issues, particularly on the importance of imagination in early childhood. Giving a child the ability to share and post their creations online in Lego Life kills their sense of imagination, because the simple act of creating will lose importance… while their vanity in their creations only grow.
Our kids will have plenty of time for social networks in the future. In the meantime, let's ensure their mental health is safe, protect their innocence, and continue to leave the doors of dreams, creativity, and imagination open to them.