A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this site is a popular virtual community created for kids (mostly girls) ages 8 to 15, although it may not be appropriate for the younger side of that wide span. The main concern is that although the site uses a language filter and city workers review the chat log and warrant "duct tape sentences" to offenders, the chat is not monitored 24/7. But kids must take a instructive chat license test that teaches online safety features. Numerous safety measures built into the site help protect kids from online predators.
What's it about?
On Whyville, users create an avatar and meet others. Together, they play science- and math-centric learning games, chat, spend virtual (or actual) money, and hang out. Set up to mirror a real-life community, users can participate in government. As in adult virtual communities such as Teen Second Life, users spend virtual money -- called clams, here -- to buy cars, build their own homes, and fancy up their avatars. Clams can be purchased with real money via PayPal or through gameplay.
Is it any good?
Although creators have included a number of safety measures (including registering for the site with a parent's email, requiring a parental permission slip to be sent via snail mail, taking a thorough pre-chat test, and reporting abuses by other players through a "911 report"), one of the site's major mishaps is that the chat rooms aren't monitored around the clock, so there can be predictable teen-like interchanges about "hooking up" and some inappropriately frank -- and sometimes hurtful -- comments.
Many of the educational components within Whyville are sponsored by well-respected institutions in the science, art, health and math fields, such as NASA and the John Paul Getty Trust. On the negative side, however, there are a lot of advertisers on the site, including Wal-Mart, Disney, and the car maker Scion. The constant call for clams and trumpeting of big-ticket items like cars makes Whyville somewhat of a conundrum for parents: Do the educational benefits outweigh the commercial influences?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how some activities on this site are different from other virtual worlds. Do your kids come to the site because it offers good community activities? Does the safety test help them feel safer exploring the site. Families can also take a tour of the site together and talk about what they see.
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