What is a virtual world, and is it OK for my young kid?
Club Penguin, Webkinz, Neopets, and other online playgrounds are targeted to kids as young as 6. They're called virtual worlds, and kids can explore them by playing games, completing fun tasks, and interacting with others. Here are some signs to look for to make sure a virtual world is OK for your kid:
- Chat is pre-set or "canned." Kids select phrases from a list rather than free-typing. Inappropriate words are blocked.
- Limited exposure to advertising. Sites that charge a subscription fee probably won't run ads -- although they will have promotions and campaigns to encourage kids to come back. Some branded sites, such as Crayola, will have fun activities but also will be promoting their products.
- Human monitors. High-quality sites employ real human monitors who oversee the players.
- Reports. Some sites will send you a report of your child's activities. If it's an educational site, the report may include an evaluation of your child's skills.
- Responsive customer service. You want to get a quick response if anything goes wrong, you need to cancel, or you just want to give the site some feedback.
- Age-appropriate learning and social games. Before you register your kid, spend some time interacting on the site yourself or with your kid. Do you like the games? Does your kid like them? Are the activities engaging? Does the website update the games to keep them fresh?
- Cooperative play. Some virtual worlds design games wherein kids have to work together to make progress.
- Neutral avatar designs. Make sure your kid can design characters that are every color of the rainbow and don't have stereotypical male or female traits. (Pink sneakers are OK, but pink stilettos? Um, no.)