A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that their teens should use caution when hanging out in this free 3-D virtual world. It can be a fun and imaginative place to chat and play, but it can also be addictive, socially stifling, and be a place where kids do, say, or wear things they wouldn't in real life. Premium membership costs around $10 and added features like clothes, home furnishings, and cars cost Therebucks, which are purchased with a credit card or Paypal. Teens may be tempted to spend frequently as there are many things to buy that enhance the online experience. It's also easy to be sucked into spending a ton of time in this world.
What's it about?
THERE.COM combines all the popular teenage hobbies -- chatting, video gaming, and shopping -- set it in a visually spectacular (if not slow) fantasy world. Visitors are able to create their own avatar, a realistic-looking persona that's fully customizable. (Want a bigger bust or a smaller butt?) They then can travel through various settings (from the moon to an exotic jungle retreat), chat with other avatars, and play games. Homes can be fully furnished and there's usually always a party going on somewhere around the sight. Avatars talk to one another through comic-book style bubbles and can even do actions like wink, hug, or kiss.
Is it any good?
Although much of the site is pure fun, there are some questionable aspects. Chatting has guidelines in place that prohibit explicit language, but take away the filter, and an avatar is free to swear up a storm. Sharing of personal info, although advised against, isn't full proof -- and avatars often link to their personal pages in their profiles. Many teen-targeted companies sponsor various events and rooms; it's not blatant advertising and may be easier to influence teens. Also, because everything looks so real, teens might have a tough time separating virtual reality from the real world. And with the many layers to the site, it can easily become a time-consuming pastime. Users can go from just chatting to buying and renting virtual property, selling items, and hosting events. It's a fantasy world almost-come-to-life, but just as in the real world, there are precautions that need to be taken.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why a virtual reality site appeals to teens? How do people act differently in a chat room versus real life? Why do we need to virtually experience doing something that could be done in real life? Is it easier to make friends as an avatar rather than as yourself? Also, families can discuss what information is OK to give to other people online? What should never be shared?
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