A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the space-themed TinyPlanets.com virtual world automatically suggests usernames when upon registration and only offers preselected chat phrases, so there's no chance of kids entering inappropriate words or providing personal information. Kids don't have to submit an email address or any other personal information to register for the site. Kids earn "star" points by playing games and participating in other activities on the site, and then spend the points to purchase spaceships and a wide variety of buildings, landscapes, atmospheres and other features to customize their planets. But there’s a fair amount of content that’s only accessible to users who purchase “keys” with real money. A 10-pack of keys, which buys one video clip viewing, costs $1.95.
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Is it any good?
TINYPLANETS.COM, which is based on the animated Tiny Planets TV series, is a virtual world designed to let kids age 6-14 play games, watch videos, learn and explore. After creating a cadet avatar, users can click their way around the site's different worlds and activities. The graphics are impressive; cars whiz by as you float through a shopping center, and you can navigate your rocket ship through space. The site also deserves kudos for its clear emphasis on safety: You don't need to submit a lot of personal information to register, and kids can't openly chat with each other.
However, users aren't likely to be too over the moon about this site because a fair amount of the content costs money to access. The games that are free are fun; and some items can be purchased using stars, which are earned by exploring the site. However, many activities -- including most of the clips on the TV planet and the site's interactive books -- cost keys to check out. And unless parents want to whip out their credit card, kids may get frustrated trying to track down the site's free activities.
Online interaction: The ultra-safe chat feature allows users to pick from pre-selected statements only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about paying for virtual goods. Is a website more fun if you have to pay to do some of the activities? Or is it more fun if there are more things to see and do that are free? Why do websites charge to access certain areas and not others?
What are the best ways to have fun in a virtual world, while still staying safe? This website doesn't let kids choose their own username -- why do you think that is? For sites that do let you choose a name, why isn't it a good idea to pick one that's close to your real name? What kind of words aren't safe to use?