Whilst helping my daughter out with an English Language challenge, the power of social networks to educate, through the proxy of Dad became apparent. It occurred to me to question:

How can we make it easier for kids to engage with experts, or even just other more knowledgeable kids, through the vehicle of the Stack Exchange sites?

If a child was just let loose with a login of their own on www.stackoverflow.com for example, then their confused, overly terse, or just badly expressed questions would be quickly moderated out of existence as spam, or otherwise just ignored as mere trouble making. Their user accounts would become blacklisted; not a nice experience when you are starting out engaging with the world-wide Internet community.

Perhaps the Stack Exchange sites could find a way of providing a "kids zone" in which trusted members of the grown-up site are able to help kids out; helping them clarify their questions and guiding them through the subject matter maze -- as it very well may appear to kids starting out -- perhaps cross referencing the most useful questions on the main site itself where applicable. For the grown-up and older kids participating in the "kids zone", it would be understood that a lot of the question may be poorly written, but treated as an interesting pedagogical challenge regardless.

It would be especially gratifying to see older kids helping younger kids out - they would clearly have a strong motivation to do so given the gamification and kudos attribution through badges that Stack Exchange sites pull-off so well. Questions could be categorized by the year-group of the user to help with filtering search results for differing age/ability groups; these are interesting challenges and hold tremendous potential in my mind.

What do you think?

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    Profanity and certain behaviours are already frowned upon and quickly acted on already. If a poster identifies themselves as a child, I am sure such guidelines will be adhered to even more so. This appears to be a solution looking for a problem, in my eyes. – Oded Apr 16 '12 at 18:25
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    It would sure beats the Q&A under Khan Academy video's – Ivo Flipse Apr 16 '12 at 18:25
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    @Oded if a poster identifies themselves as a child their account will be suspended for violation of the Terms of Service. If you're under 13 you can't agree to our ToS. US laws make it too difficult to support minors in this case. – Ben Brocka Apr 16 '12 at 18:34
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    I assume by "kids" you mean "teenagers" as users have to be 13 or over to use the sites. – ChrisF Apr 16 '12 at 18:44
  • I was thinking more generally of all age-groups, and not considering the present ToS, or indeed US Law as a barrier; although I acknowledge that it is major one. – user151805 Apr 16 '12 at 18:46
  • @BenBrocka - Not living in the US, I wouldn't know about that. – Oded Apr 16 '12 at 18:46
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    I, for one, am excited about visiting Simple English Theoretical Computer Science SE. – Pops Apr 16 '12 at 19:19
  • @Oded I've seen posts where ... let's call them "young people" mentioned their age, and they were treated very well. – agf Apr 16 '12 at 19:54
  • I really like the idea! I do not know about children being prohibited on the Internet in the US, or if stackoverflow is the right platform for such an idea. Maybe, or maybe not. However, the idea is really good! Me and some other parents was talking about starting a Hackerspace for children here in Stockholm/Sweden. More hacking for the children! :) – Alfred Godoy Apr 16 '12 at 20:55
  • If anyone really thinks the idea was worth expressing in the first place, please up-vote the "question". Some kind soul has down-voted me -- a first time for me on a StackExchange site -- and I was trying to give back a little :s I am inconsolable ;-) Was it something I wrote that struck a wrong chord? – user151805 Apr 17 '12 at 11:08
  • Voting works differently on Meta. You haven't written anything wrong, someone just opposes the "kids zone" concept. – Pops Apr 17 '12 at 19:56
  • Okay, I get it. Fair enough. – user151805 Apr 18 '12 at 8:07
  • Possible duplicate of How can I propose a new site? – Robert Columbia Aug 16 '18 at 2:10
  • @RobertColumbia: The dupe target is about site topics that just need a new space carved out for them using the usual process. This is not that at all, and would require much more work on SE's end than simply adding a new database. – Nathan Tuggy Aug 16 '18 at 3:35

This is a neat idea but has significant legal implications. As I implied, our ToS forbids kids under 13:

No one under the age of 13 may provide any personal information to or on Stack Exchange (including, for example, a name, address, telephone number or email address).

Many US based websites include such a clause due to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA means you have to get parental consent to allow children under 13 to provide any form of private information like their name, email ect. Due to the extraordinarily impractical measures required to verify parental consent, US sites tend to just ban kids under 13 from signing up.

To allow kids, SE would have to do one of the following:

Website operators must use reasonable procedures to ensure they are dealing with the child's parent. These procedures may include:

  • obtaining a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;
  • accepting and verifying a credit card number;
  • taking calls from parents on a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;
  • email accompanied by digital signature;
  • email accompanied by a PIN or password obtained through one of the verification methods above.

The legal hurdles just don't seem worth it, especially in addition to all the other required procedures:extra moderation, separate section of the site, separate ToS ect.

It just doesn't seem practical. As a parent you can ask a question on behalf of your child and even request a simple English explanation, which is probably the best solution you'll get on a site not originally intended for children.

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  • @BoltClock Sorry if I'm being dense, but what is that search query supposed to tell us? – Josh Darnell Apr 16 '12 at 20:32
  • @jadarnel27: It contains a bunch of results asking to explain stuff to n-year-old kids for small values of n. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 16 '12 at 20:35
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    @BoltClock most of them closed...StackOverflow's problem space isn't really one where age-related questions work well. "My 5 year old keeps getting Seg Faults. What's going on?" – Ben Brocka Apr 16 '12 at 20:41
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    What version of linux is she running? – Rosinante Apr 16 '12 at 21:39

As noted elsewhere (and in the terms of service), you need to be at least 13 (16 in Europe) to create an account, for legal reasons we can't do anything about. That means that a child who wants to ask a question already requires an adult (or teenage) assistant.

That assistant can help the child navigate. I've seen questions asked by users on behalf of their children; it happens. The parent can help the child ask the question in a way that fits site expectations. Ideally they'd sit there at the computer together to craft the question and, later, to review answers and comments. It would be a good learning experience.

Parents already teach their children important life skills, including navigating the Internet. Teaching them how to use our Q&A sites fits into that. Yes, it might require some learning on the parent's part (if not already familiar with SE), but parents end up learning about all sorts of things in the course of raising their kids, so this fits in.

I've been talking about parents here, but a mature teenage sibling can fill this role too. Each family is different; do what works for you.

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