What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the imaginative virtual world Second Life is an appealing hangout for kids of all ages, but is rife with adult-themes and conversations that are best left to the adults or older teens. There is no longer a Teen Second Life, which once was a safer, monitored virtual world with minimal adult content. Instead, everyone is now routed to SecondLife.com, where they are able to chart their own course and socialize (via text or voice) with any of the millions of registered users from all over the world who also hang there. Areas are rated PG or Mature, but without the restrictions that existed with the teen version, there’s more opportunity for teens to end up chatting with an adult posing as a kid or wandering into some of the adult areas that exist (potentially exposing them to brothels, pornography, etc.). Customizable 3-D avatars are a big draw, and options range from skin color and hair styles to costumes and bust size, so the customization possibilities are practically endless. The site is free to join, but it has limitations unless you upgrade to a monthly membership. The site’s currency, Linden Dollars, can be purchased with U.S. dollars or earned by selling created items.
Is it any good?
The open-ended environment of this virtual community is part of SECOND LIFE'S appeal and charm, and there’s ample opportunity for kids to flex their creative muscles (though the tools to do so are somewhat clunky). Visitors will find socializing, entertainment, games, and abundant opportunities for learning (sit in on a classroom discussion, run a business, learn to play an instrument). Plus, they can buy, sell, and develop land; build structures, and shop. Avatars can even fly! Certainly, there’s nearly as much to do in this world as there is in the real world. But that’s what also makes it a dangerous environment for kids. Without the safeguards that were in place at Teen Second Life, teens are more likely to wander into -- intentionally or unintentionally -- adult-themed areas or overhear inappropriate conversations or chat with someone who isn’t who they claim to be. Yes, it’s an engaging, creative place full of endless possibilities. But left unchecked or unmonitored, that may also present the biggest concern.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about what virtual communities are. What appeals to kids about using an avatar rather than a true identity? Families can also discuss consumerism in virtual worlds. What are users really getting by buying pretend stuff in this pseudo-world?
How are virtual worlds places for marketers to sell virtually anything? How are products and brands tied into such sites, and what makes them such great arenas for selling stuff? How can you be a savvy consumer and not buy into the virtual hype?