SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Being a teenager can be hard, and even tougher if you're different, but an Australian organization hopes to ease these growing pains through an online social network dedicated to youth with illnesses or disabilities.
Livewire (www.livewire.org.au), which was launched this week, is being touted by the media as a "Facebook for sick kids" and is the first social network website of its kind in Australia.
According to child health statistics, an estimated 450,000 Australians aged between 10 and 21 are currently living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability, and the website hopes to become a support network for them.
"This whole relationship that the kids can create with others is really to help them secure the friendships that they may be missing out on in the real world," Omar Khalifa, managing director of Livewire told Reuters.
"We keep hearing from these children that they want to be normal; they don't want to dwell on their illness. One boy wrote to us and said 'I'm paralyzed from the waist down but when I come on Livewire I know I'm not as bad as others,'" Khalifa said.
Livewire provides a safe and fun online community where members can share experiences, he said. Like MySpace or Facebook, users can play games, access blogs and enter chatrooms.
"Livewire is a lot safer, I wouldn't be comfortable talking about my illness on MySpace or Facebook," said 13-year-old user Annie Grindrod, who suffers arthritis.
"You are talking to people who have gone through the same things you have gone through and spent time in hospital and its good to just be able to talk to them," she told Reuters.
Livewire recruits members from referrals through it's parent organization, the Starlight Children's Foundation, and through hospitals that treat disabilities or chronic cases.
The site is hoping to sign up 20,000 members this year, and has stringent security measures in place to ensure members are safe from cyber bullying and other threats.
"The Federal Police have developed part of the training program for us to identify cyber bullying and anything else untoward that may happen in a chat. So our guys are pretty clued up," Khalifa explained.
Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Miral Fahmy