What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Animal Jam is a virtual-world counterpart to National Geographic Kids magazine. Kids learn about plant and animal life while navigating through Jamaa, a land where the animals are disappearing and the environment needs help. It's fun, but while the site claims to have safe chat, privacy, and parental control features, they're not keeping up their end of the bargain. Sexual content and bullying is common, filters don't seem to catch bad language, and customer support is difficult to contact. Some of the arcade games may seem too simplistic and a waste of time considering the National Geographic brand, but the features that include information on the natural world balance out the fluff. Paid memberships are promoted, but not overwhelmingly so.
What's it about?
Kids create animal avatars with cute anonymous names made from mashups of suggested words (e.g., "Handsome Wackycat"). They then pick a place to visit, play games, meet other players, or shop. Most games don't require or reinforce knowledge of the natural world. Social activities include chatting, game challenges, visits to buddies' dens, or sending friendly Jam-a-Grams. Winning games earns gems, which can buy accessories, furniture, or a pet. New "animal jammers" be warned; Jamaa is a busy place, and new players may need to ask others for help.
Is it any good?
Since this site is a National Geographic product, it's expected to have strong nature photos, videos, and graphics; solid information; and generally be a high-quality production -- and it is. That said, if your child or younger tween isn't a strong reader or doesn't have experience with more simple virtual worlds like Club Penguin or Webkinz, Animal Jam could be a bit confusing at first. And some of the games are more arcade-style, less educational. As in most virtual worlds, players earn points that get them online money ("gems") to buy items for their avatar and avatar's home, or to play certain more complex games. Overall, a safe, higher-value-than-usual virtual world for tweens.
Online interaction: This site has a safe and very structured chat and buddy system. The rules are clear, and it's easy to ignore, block or report players who are not following the rules. As virtual worlds go, some of the online interaction is very basic and not very worthwhile, but there is enough educational content here that hopefully kids can find meaningful topics about which to interact here.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how to play nice and be safe in virtual worlds. Review the guidelines on Animal Jam together, and read Common Sense Media's Online Worlds for Young Kids Tips for more ideas.
Discuss Animal Jam's Play Timer feature with your kids to help them begin setting self-limits on their computer time. Check their overall time spent on the site's parental controls account. Read Common Sense Media's advice on Setting Computer Time Limits for your children.
Ask your kids what they're learning about animals and the environment from their time on Animal Jam. They might teach you a new animal fact or conservation idea!