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Teaching Internet Safety to Kids


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July 27, 2006

Teaching Internet Safety to Kids

Toddi Gutner

I knew it was going to happen, just not so soon. That is, the urge for my two young sons to be wired---to sit front of some type of screen each day. As I’ve blogged about in the past, I have always disliked T.V. As a result, I’ve been fairly strict about how much time my 7 and 9-year-old watch the boob tube.

More recently, my 9 year old told me about Club Penguin, a social networking site for kids ages 8-14.

It’s a free online community where each user adopts a penguin and receives an igloo (or you can pay $5.95 a month for a more robust version of the game). Penguins play games to receive coins which can then be used to furnish their igloos. Penguins are allowed to communicate with each other, in real time, hence the social networking aspect of the site.

My immediate reaction was No. No way. I don’t want my kids in front of another screen. I also have been deathly afraid of the My Space social networking thing mostly, because I didn’t understand it. I also figured they'd get to social networking in good time, why push it.

Then I did the research. I got on Club Penguin myself. I was impressed with the parental controls and the lack of advertising. I found it fun and educational. The kids need to use their math skills to decide what to buy, how much it costs, and how much money they need to save to buy the coveted item. As for the social networking piece, the site as an “ultimate safe chat” mode which only allows my kids to say scripted words and phrases. As it turns out, the only other penguins they talk to are their real life friends who are also on the site at the same time. My son meets his friends after camp in his igloo for a party.

These younger kids aren’t going on this site or others like it, to meet new people, but rather to play with their real life friends online. I also realized that whether I like it or not, my children will live and work online. I can’t stop that trend, but I can be a responsible parent and find out what social networking is all about and then teach my children how to be safe online. I don’t think of them in a walled electronic garden. There are dangers. In my research, I’ve found a number of sites like Safekids.com, FamilyNetNews.org and GetNetwise.org that are helpful for safety tips.

My kids are very proud of their igloos and want to show me what they have bought to decorate them. I use their pride as a way to talk about what their doing online, another good habit I hope to maintain as they move into the real social networking environment.

Of course, Club Penguin has now become another screen to limit and another option for them to consider in their one-hour a day screen time quota. Once they’ve used up that time, and some days they don’t even come near a screen, they’re out bike riding, skateboarding, playing catch and whatever else they do to keep busy.

I’m not happy about the burgeoning opportunities for screen usage in today’s society, but I am also aware that I still have the chance to help my kids make screens a part of their lives, and not their lives.

03:26 PM

Work/Life

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If you like Club Penguin, you should try Whyville.net. Founded in 1999, it's been features in CNN, the LA Times, the NY Times and the Christian Science Monitor. It's got everything Club Penguin has and more, with a strong focus on education in math, science, art, journalism, science and entrepreneurship. And it's fun for the kids, who like to hang out lots of places including Whyville Beach. Sponsors include NASA, the Getty Museum, the University of Missouri and the University of Texas. Check it out at www.whyville.net.

Posted by: Cliff Zintgraff at September 1, 2006 07:08 PM


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