A teen on kid virtual worlds: Insights

By Anne Collier

“It doesn’t matter how safe developers try to make these games, kids will still experiment with what they can say and do,” says Julia Tanenbaum, who just finished her freshman year in high school and serves on the Ypulse Youth Advisory Board. Now extremely interested in anime and Japanese pop culture (she’s studying Japanese), Tanenbaum looks back on her days in kids’ virtual worlds. Her piece bears out some of the experiences related by Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin here at NetFamilyNews, but I think you’ll appreciate the view from a real (former) insider. “Most were there just to play games and hang out, but there was also some pushing of boundaries. The truth is despite moderators, chat filters, and only being able to use certain words, there was occasionally underground activity (see also “Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual world users”). “Some sites now have started to limit phrases, and only let kids use a set of pre-made sentences, but I personally would leave the game if this was done. It makes it difficult to say anything at all.” It undoubtedly depends on the child’s age; early readers would find it helpful to choose from a menu of pre-written phrases, as in TinyPlanets.com, but this comment confirms what I wrote here, under “Employing moderators and tech protections.” “For example,” Tanenbaum writes, “if I was a tween girl, I couldn’t ask another player if she watched ICarly, even though that’s a harmless question, because that would not be included in the set phrases. Who really wants to have a conversation using sentences like ‘What is your favorite color?’ and that’s it? I can’t imagine this is too fun for kids. Super filtering chat just takes out the fun and most kids aren’t looking for trouble (they have enough street smarts not to give out their address or last name).” Please read Tanenbaum’s full piece for more insights. [Two related posts are “Moderator wisdom: Virtual worlds’ youth-safety experts” and one on the FTC’s milestone virtual-worlds report last December.]

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