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Friday, February 20, 2009

Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin, Part 1

The first installment of contributor Sharon Duke Estroff's inside look at kids' virtual worlds (here's last week's intro)....

by Sharon Duke Estroff

The first time my eight-year old asked me how to spell "penguin," I felt a wave of pride (a spelling bee champion in the making!). The second time I just felt curious (hmm, an Antarctic unit at school?). But the third time - in the midst of a playdate with his best bud, no less - I felt a touch of concern (what are those kids up to?!). "Penguin?" I asked hopefully, "as in Mr. Popper's Penguins"?

"No," my son clarified. "As in Club Penguin. Sam wants to show me his igloo and we can't get to the Web site." My second grader's age of digital innocence had come to an end, and we both dove headfirst into junior cyber-social world.

I do mean both of us. Because after my son went to bed that night (giddy with excitement over the creation of his penguin alter ego, or "avatar"), I opened a Club Penguin account of my own, officially kicking off an ultra-eye-opening, slightly chilling undercover mom investigation.

While Club Penguin may be a current "it" site for kids (so much so that Disney bought it in 2007 for $700 million), it's hardly an only. Rather, it's part of a rapidly expanding new genre of child-oriented virtual world - part social networking, part online game, part Saturday-morning cartoon - that millennial kids are all over like peanut butter on jelly. There are currently more than 150 of these sites either live or in development. By next year, projects Nic Mitham, CEO of UK-based K Zero, a virtual-worlds consulting firm, 150 million children will be members of said (for more on this, see this).

Perhaps the best way to describe the virtual world experience is, it's like tumbling down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole. One minute you’re sitting in front of the computer and the next you're in the middle of a virtual ski village complete with simulated snow tubing, swanky alpine shopping, and a cyber-disco.

Unlike traditional videogames, where even the most screen-addicted kid recognizes a distinct separation between himself and the animated character he’s maneuvering with his joystick, your virtual world avatar is you - your virtual self. My Club Penguin avatar is a hot pink-clad go-getter named ChilyLily437 (not to be confused with ChillyLily1 through ChillyLily436). I have my own digital igloo, wardrobe, and penguin posse; I sunbathe, snowboard, and work odd jobs. I even pick up my daily cup of joe at CP's version of Starbucks. All in a perpetual state of social overdrive.

I'm not sure what I expected to find during my two weeks of undercover penguinhood; but whatever it was, I didn't find it. In fact, the brave new world of children's virtual socialization was - for better and for worse - nothing I expected it to be. In the coming issues of Net Family News, I explain what I mean by that as I document ChillyLily437’s adventures. The observations I make will be subjective, of course, but I’ll do my best to ground my reflections (which I'll call "Mom Breaks") in sound research (in the manner Anne Collier). My hope is that this information will help us millennial parents begin to grasp the subtleties and complexities of the digital childhood - along with the impact of social media on our children’s present and future well-being - so that we may begin to find our way along this winding, uncharted parental path.

Next Week: Undercover on Club Penguin Day 1 - Let’s Get this Party Started!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

how dare you spy on your kids its awful you should feel ashamed of yourself club penguin is 100% safe and i know it your just stupid enough to think its unsafe let your kid have a life for goodness sake get yourself a life and live it

11:25 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Hmm, Anonymous, would you be willing to say if you're a kid? a parent? none of the above? A little context for your comment might be helpful. Tx for posting.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Good for you! I believe it is important to know what sites our kids are viewing. If parents don't try it, they don't know if it is truly safe or not.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Sharon Duke Estroff said...

Agreed Tanya! And keeping our kids "safe" doesn't simply mean keeping them away from cyber-predators. It means ensuring their social, emotional, intellectual, moral, and physical well-being in both the real and virtual realms. We can't simply assume that a for profit website like Club Penguin has similar goals for our kids.

Oh and one more thing, Anonymous - I don't consider this spying. My son knew I'd opened a Club Penguin account and gave me tutorials in navigating this icy online world. Millennial children need to know - WANT to know - that their parents are standing watch on their cyber-playgrounds, just as they would their real playgrounds.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Amy Strecker said...

Good work Sharon! It speaks well for you that your reaction to your son's new interest is "let's explore together" instead of other typical options like "I don't get it and don't care to figure it out," or "no you can't use that."

I'm looking forward to seeing more of your reflections.

Anonymous, my mom is a university professor and secretly tape recorded one of my middle school phone conversations that she continues to reference in her classes and presentations. Almost 15 years later, I'm still not thrilled about this (and the recording isn't even interesting or incriminating!) I just felt spied on and that my privacy had been violated. I think my experience is very different from Sharon creating her own experiences on Club Penguin with her son's knowledge.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous JediMom said...

Bravo! I look forward to your reports. So far I've just looked over my daughter's shoulder.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Neptallie, M. said...

To: Anonymous
Are you 100% sure that club penguin is safe? go look at the pictures and go see for yourself, are you a kid trying to stop parents to watch their child's online life? we do this because we don't want our children to learn nasty things from the internet since they're just young, we want to make sure that we don't want anything 'bad' with their lives when they grow up.Think about it than posting unreasonable comments in-front of other parents who cares for their children/child's sake.
btw, thanks for posting this! =)

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Kayla said...

Even though I'm a kid... I tottally agree with your reports. I like Club Penguin, but I find it rude that it's BUY,BUY,BUY. I would perfer the Barbie site over CP, since you can create and still play, not be harassed....

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Omg ur disgusting!! You engaged yourself with the kids and it doesn't matter if you were trying to reveal something but its still disgusting of you to accept everything they were offering you! you could have always said no instead of accepting cuz by that u were only misleading them into doing wrong! And if your so worried bout online sites then you should just control your kids instead of trying to shut down the game and ruining everyones fun. if your kids want membership then your supposed to get it for em instead of going "undercover" and fulfilling ur wants ur a dirty woman!

5:15 PM  
Anonymous A said...

I do see your point maybe friend your kids and blend in with others and follow them.Because you never know what might happen.I do play clubpenguin and yes im a kid but I do get your point.Have you add this to your blog? Well there are "babys" in the pet shop the dress up like them and sometimes babys abusers come and hurt them and its repulsing.Plus everyone on CP think there rare

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, you guys are nuts. In Club Penguin, YOU ARE NOT NAKED. There are free items and out of all the parties they host, NONMEMBERS ARE ALLOWED TO JOIN. I am a nonmember myself, and I have over 30 items. YOu know how i got them? By parties.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, of course not, Anonymous, but penguins can waddle around without cool clothes, right - if they don't play games or otherwise earn enough to shop, right? Not that it's hugely important, but a way to be made fun of by other penguins maybe, which is not good?

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, of course not, Anonymous, but penguins can waddle around without cool clothes, right - if they don't play games or otherwise earn enough to shop, right? Not that it's hugely important, but a way to be made fun of by other penguins maybe, which is not good?

4:58 PM  
Blogger shadow said...

I believe you shouldn't spy on what your kids are doing on the internet.
I agree clubpenguin is 100% safe!
Undercover mom is the worst thing I have ever heard!!

6:48 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, shadow, but this was really just a mom who wanted to learn more about what her little kids were experiencing in a VW - not like keylogger monitoring software or anything - so I'm surprised this is the worst thing you ever heard of that parents could do. But we can just agree to disagree on that.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't spy on your kids, and they won't spy on you.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a kid myself and I find this very fair anonymous parents want to know what there kids are doing on the internet it's good to know if I were a parent I would probably do the same thing.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HAHA, you spy on your kids on a kid's website? How pathetic..there's nothing to worry about, but if they Join Kung Fu Panda World I'll be on there, my username will be MasterKai

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Noe231 said...

Its not expensive to buy a 1 month membership. By the way every party has a free item for non members. And cp is giving out codes like FreeHood for the purple crosshatch hoodie. Stop attacking CP! Its an epic game ok without membership there would be no cp.

PS: Stop stalking us!

~ Noe231 main owner at CPCheatZone

2:24 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Nobody's stalking anybody, here Noe231, this blog post was published 2.5 years ago.

12:13 PM  
Blogger emo-kid said...

I am a kid 13 years old, and there are reasons for parents looking on that site.. i play it.. it is a safe game but then again there are most likely some predators on there looking for kids and communicating with the m pretending to be a kid to attract them to come play with them at their house so yes im with her for checking it out and i am a member and i don't find the game any fun if you aren't a member cause you cant play all the games and you cant buy any clothing but that's my opinion but just tell your kids to not give any of their information i think they might have monidters but im not certainly sure but yeah my mom looked on it and one time some person was acting very suspicious to me asking me what state i live in whats my phone number to talk to me and being as stupid i was i gave that person a few details of information and i ended up getting called every day like 20 times a day buy a man who sounded about 30 leaving voice messages saying for me to come out side and play and weird stuff like that but i learned from my mistakes so i would have a chat with him/her about personal information :) good luck :D

7:21 PM  

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