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I am running a forum with a very young user group (primarily 9-17 years old) and there are some users that are simply overusing my community:

Some of them are online all day, every day. While I appreciate their interest in my community and know that they found friends in there I am concerned about their real life. Staying online all day cannot be good for their real life, health and school grades.

Note that the community is located in Europe, I am not affected by COPPA and the parents do not necessarily know about their membership.

Should I do something against this or is this none of my business and their parents should keep an eye on them?

7

I don't think it's something you should have to, or even want to, worry about. You are only responsible for your forum, why would you want the added responsibility of trying to raise someone else's kids?

Most likely any restrictions you place will have adverse effects. I see one of two things happening:

  1. They'll start to lie about their ages to get around the rules.
  2. They'll start to leave in favor of a forum that doesn't restrict their use.

It's also important to remember that in today's age, everyone has multiple devices that allow them to stay connected no matter where they are. Smartphones especially, allow people to stay connected to their favorite sites and forums no matter where they are. Sometimes I'll still appear to be connected just because I've left my computer open when I left the house. It's possible that they always seem online because they're connected through a phone or tablet, and they aren't actually devoting their entire time to the forum.

  • 1
    In this case they are active within the community, not just shown as online. Thanks! – TimWolla Jul 30 '14 at 17:09
  • I find it hard to grasp the problem of high-participation outside of knowing the site's content. I'm not familiar with youth social sites. As an adult example I can imagine extremely high-participation with Stackoverflow could dilute the quality of the site if questions fail to meet their quality standards. Maybe you could explain the site's content domain or, maybe average post length? – xtian Aug 21 '14 at 16:20
5

I would say that you won't have to concern your self with this, as these people may have a good reason to be online all day

  • Either they are doing what is known as homeschooling, and hence have more time being online (not that homeschooling gives a person such time)

  • They may have some break from school

Other then this, this should be the parents responsibility to deal with them, that is assuming the person isn't old enough to be responsible themselves.

but if you are truly concerned about this, then you can always specify from which hour to which hour your forum is open, since your user base is young, you most likely control the content (no adult content), so like that I suggest you somehow control the time the forum is open.

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    I don't like the time control option - remember time zones. If you're doing it with some kind of JS, it's trivial to change the computer clock/timezone. – Undo Jul 30 '14 at 16:45
  • General time control is unfortunatly infeasible, as we do have an large (though not as large) adult (18+) group as well. Thanks for your answer! – TimWolla Jul 30 '14 at 16:47
  • @Undo Isn't there a way to specify how much time a user is on the forum? for instance the time a user can be on the forum is only 4 hours, regardless of there location. – مجاهد Jul 30 '14 at 16:48
  • Still very hard @مجاهد. Kids these days (myself included) are very very good at getting around such things. – Undo Jul 30 '14 at 16:49
4

The best thing you could probably do is empower parents. Make gathering parental contact information a requirement of accounts. Use that information to make usage reports and parental controls available to parents to manage their kid's online activity.

You are going to make people upset if you try to manage it yourself. Maybe the kid is shy and they are actually online regularly because their parents want them there for social interaction because it is the only avenue they are comfortable with.

As a start, the ability to measure how much time the users are active and report that would probably be helpful as well as the ability to cut off access after a certain amount of time is reached (configurable from the parent's account).

1

I would say that it is not a moral requirement to intervene. However it may be still desireable to intervene. In that case your actual options that will work are fairly limited and if price is a factor depend strongly on what software stack you are using. The primary options:

  • max online time/day: If open-source forum you can probably get a module to do that if an enterprise forum than likely would be expensive or unavailable if it isn't already included.
  • only open at specific times per day: not nice really really.
  • private messaging (or other individual communication): have to consider whether it is appropriate in individual cases but it may work.
  • parental involvement: challenging especially due to privacy laws depending on your jurisdiction.
0

I agree with the others that there is no pressing need to intervene. But if you want to intervene, I once saw an interesting solution in an online game (of the kind where you can only take an action after some long bar has filled up): you had to have 8 consecutive hours of not being logged in for every 24 hours. If you had been coming online once per hour for the last 16 hours, at the seventeenth hour it would just not let you log in.

I don't know if the game did it out of a social consideration or to prevent unfair competition from players using bots or multiple people using the same account to max out the usage of these bars of "play energy". But you could consider implementing a similar thing on your site, if you want to prevent addiction-like behavior. The good thing is that it does not penalize users who have an unusual time zone or are working shifts (as opposed to "closing down" during certain hours).

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