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 kid-friendly virtual world is a spin-off of teen-targeted site Zwinktopia.com. It costs up to $5.95 per month for a premium ("Jet Setter") membership; kids who have a free account are frequently prompted to upgrade. Parents must activate a child's account and can restrict and permit access as needed. Only safe chat is available, so there's no risk of kids sharing personal information (or using profanity). The site offers comprehensive safety tips for both parents and kids, and users can choose privacy settings for their rooms. Kids could feel rejected if other users ignore their requests to be friends or to chat. Phrases meant to fend off pesky users -- such as "I'm going to ignore you" -- could be used in a mean-spirited way.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's it about?
Popular teen site Zwinktopia.com now has a little sister: the pink and purple virtual world ZWINKYCUTIES.COM, which was specifically designed for a younger audience. Users can create an avatar, decorate their room, explore locations like the mall and the movie theater, and have conversations with other cuties using pre-scripted chat phrases. Playing games like "Pie Oh My" or "Preps vs. Goths" earns you ZBucks, which paid "Jet Setter" members can trade in for clothes, furniture, and other items. Jet Setters also have access to a wider selection of games, hangouts, and virtual pets (regular users can only get a goldfish).
Is it any good?
ZwinkyCuties.com scores points for being easy to use -- it starts off with a helpful tutorial of its features and provides clear instructions. The games are fun and nicely animated, especially the Snood-like "Best in Show" and the simple yet addictive "Ping Pong Mania." Despite the site's over-the-top girliness, the animation can be adorable -- like the hopping bunny slippers at the pet store or the cat that plays with a ball of string.
On the downside, parents may not be thrilled by the site's focus on fashion, shopping, and cuteness as the defining factors of girlhood. (P.S.: There are boys on the site, but they're vastly outnumbered by girls.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about online safety and setting computer time limits. Why is it important to spend time away from the computer? Families can also discuss how kids can apply the social skills learned in virtual worlds to life offline. How would you approach a new friend? What would you do if someone was bothering you?