Posts Tagged ‘ online safety ’

5 Things the Virtual Club Penguin World Teaches Through Online Game Play

Friday, April 12th, 2013

The technology infused world that our children are growing up in includes social interactions that occur in real life and online through virtual worlds and mobile devices. As parents, we’re continually challenged to keep up with the newest forms of technology and methods to teach our kids about safe online behaviors.  One of the best ways to teach kids about appropriate social interactions and social networking in an age appropriate way is through Club Penguin.

With over 200 million kids and their penguins populating the online game, Club Penguin is the most popular virtual world for kids. Often called a social network on training wheels, the game serves as an introduction to the online world for kids ages 6 and above. It also provides a multitude of learning opportunities for children and parents alike. During a recent visit to company headquarters, I received an inside look at this virtual world and discovered five things that children can learn through play in the Club Penguin world.

Online safety— From the start of game play, kids begin learning about online safety as they create their penguin name and avatar. Children can be as creative as they want as they name their penguin but each name is reviewed by a member of the human global moderation team that consists of over 200 people in four locations. Moderators check to ensure that kids aren’t giving up any personally identifying information, such as first or last name and address, in their screen name before being allowed to enter the Club Penguin community.

Creative imaginative play— Club Penguin is a world where kids can be creative and use their imaginations to decorate their igloos with an assortment of items, dress their penguin, and devise creative ways to use the props found in the environment. Chris Heatherly, Vice President of Disney Interactive Worlds (aka Spike Hike in the penguin world), believes “Club Penguin is like a cardboard box. We give kids the tools and let them make the play.” The team spends a lot of time listening to conversations between penguins in the online world to incorporate ideas into the products they make. “Anytime an idea comes from a kid, it’s more powerful than when it comes from us,” says Heatherly.

Empowerment through community— Club Penguin recognizes that kids need a place where they can play and be who they are. Heatherly “encourages kids to be wacky, crazy, be themselves” because “the more YOU you are, the better.” Kids are empowered to express themselves through online game play in a world that’s free of judgment. Creative Lead, Charity Gerbrandt (aka Grasstain), shared Club Penguin  “will love and support you and want you to share your crazy ideas that inspire you.”

Appropriate online behavior- Despite the freedom to be creative, Heatherly recognizes that “kids need to feel safe to have fun.” Heatherly recognizes that kids will be kids and test the boundaries of what is acceptable versus what crosses the line but Club Penguin has a variety of tools in place to ensure safety in the community. Players in the Club Penguin world have the ability to report other penguins for inappropriate behavior with the click of a button on a penguin’s profile. Reports are reviewed by the global moderation team who specializes in pop culture with an eye on trends in music and television to ensure that conversation is appropriate. Reminders about behavior are sent but kids can also be banned from Club Penguin. The first infraction comes with a 24 hour ban, a 72 hour ban for the second, and a lifetime ban for the third.

Charitable giving and social good—  Since Club Penguin was founded in 2005, the company founders have given a percentage of membership fees to charitable projects that help children and families around the world. The company works to empower employees to participate in community projects while Club Penguin inspires kids to make a difference through their Coins for Change campaign. Coins earned during game play can be used personally to purchase items to personalize their igloo, outfit their penguin, take care of their pet puffles or donated through Coins for Change. Kids vote about what causes to support through their coin donations. To date, Club Penguin has donated over $10 million since 2007 to help over 200,000 children and their families each year in over 40 countries around the world. The impact of Coins for Change demonstrates that kids don’t have to wait to be adults to make a difference.  Nicole Rustad, Club Penguin’s Corporate Citizenship Program Director who heads up the Coins for Change, says “we believe that kids can be leaders today and they can change the world through what we do on a daily basis and around the world.”

Club Penguin logo courtesy of Disney Interactive

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Preparing New Electronic Devices for Kids

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Chances are if your family unwrapped a new device over the holidays, you’ve already spent some time setting it up before relinquishing control but is that gadget really child-friendly? Chances are that just taking the new gaming system, tablet, e-Reader, smartphone, or laptop out of the box and charging it isn’t quite enough. Once the conversation about screen time and when it is and isn’t ok to be playing on these new devices has occurred with your kids, parents should run down this checklist to ensure that the new technology that has come into their homes over the holidays is ready.

New laptop? Your child probably knows to not share their passwords, click on suspicious content, or use the camera to chat with strangers but it never hurts to remind them while also installing antivirus protection and internet security tools. Antivirus and internet security software works to scan the computer to prevent harmful viruses that often work to harvest personal data. Both types of software can be downloaded online for free from companies such as AVG who provide protection for PCs. If you purchase software, please be aware that software licenses expire after their term and need to be renewed to continue your protection.

New Xbox, WiiU, PlayStation Vita, PS3, or other gaming system? It’s going to be hard to wrestle away the controllers to check parental controls while your kids are awake but it’s a necessary step. Often times the default settings of gaming systems are overly general. It’s worth logging in and creating a parent account. Xbox allows parents to set up different profiles for kids where games are restricted based on Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) game ratings. It’s also important to know who your child is playing games with. Since many gaming systems allow for players to connect across the internet, they could be playing their favorite game with their friends or complete strangers. Have some conversations about safe gaming and if you need tips, the Get Game Smart website provides useful information for families.

New iPad?  The wealth of educational apps available for an iPad makes it a highly coveted and engaging device for kids of all ages but be sure to purchase a sturdy case that will protect it on all sides. The magnetic covers available through Apple are slim and convenient but parents should look for a case that fully wraps the edges from bumps, nicks, and scratches. Take some time to look at the iPad settings to determine what features you want disabled when your kids are playing apps. There has been a lot of chatter about the kinds of information app manufacturers may be collecting about kids as they use apps so be sure to go into each app and manually set restrictions if needed so you’re not providing too much information about your family unknowingly.

New smartphone? Talk to your kids about who is going to pay for text and data overages for their new cell phone. A new smartphone is exciting and chances are that one of the first things a new user will do is text or share the news of their device via social networks with friends. Unless you’ve gotten your child the pricey unlimited data plan, it’s important to have a conversation about exactly how many texts can be sent and how often they should be using the data plan to access online content with their phone. Understanding data plans is tricky especially since no one really thinks about how many megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) of data are being used to send or read email, stream music, view websites, post photos to social networks, or watch video content online. The Citizen’s Utility Board provides this handy Guide to Cell Phone Data Plans and breaks down what a megabyte and gigabyte are along with how much data is needed. My advice is to start conservatively when it comes to a data plan. It’s often easier to upgrade rather than downgrade your plan.

New Kindle Fire? These robust digital products are so much more than eReaders. Since Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are highly functional tablets that can also be used to read books, enable Kindle Free Time. Kindle Free Time grants unlimited reading but restricts daily screen time, prevents kids from accessing certain categories such as videos and games, disable web browsing, and the ability to purchase content. It’s also reassuring to look over at a child with their Kindle and know that the Free Time feature is working when the background of the screen is blue, rather than the usual black.

Vector black electronic devices icons set on gray via Shutterstock

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The Importance of Communicating Online & Mobile Safety Rules to Caregivers

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I always thought that my husband and I made our rules pretty clear when it came to screen time use in our home. Babysitters and grandparents knew that our kids weren’t to be on the computer unsupervised. They needed to ask permission before using gaming systems. Screen time limits apply to the total amount of time spent on all devices with screens. But we never thought that the rules outside our home would be any different when our children were staying with grandparents who knew our house rules.

We were wrong.

After coming home from a solo trip to their grandparents, our then 7-year-old daughter told us about their weekend. She had some burning questions about the sheep her grandmother was raising and together they looked on Google for the answers. Our daughter then proceeded to tell us that she stayed on the computer and continued to Google without her grandmother.

A seven-year-old on Google alone is never a good idea.

There are too many opportunities for misspellings of search terms that could lead to inappropriate content for young eyes. I thought the grandparents in our kids’ lives knew this since it was a house rule that they aren’t to be left unsupervised on the computer for this very reason.

This taught us a lesson.

The rules in our house for our kids were not the same when the walked out the door and went elsewhere. While grandparents know now that the same rules apply, our kids are older. They’re going to play dates at friends’ houses where they’re using the computer unsupervised and while I can’t control what goes on in their friends’ houses, I can only hope that our kids exercise good judgment about appropriate content and balancing out screen time with other activities when they’re with their friends.

How do you ensure that your children remain safe online and through mobile devices even when they’re not with you?

Young girl with headset and using the laptop computer via Shutterstock.

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Federal Regulations Tighten Web Privacy Rules to Protect Children

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Have you ever thought about what’s happening behind the scenes when your child is playing on their favorite website?  Chances are that the site is running complicated analytics tools to capture information about your child to share with marketers for advertising dollars.

In a recent New York Times article called U.S. is Tightening Web Privacy Rule to Shield Young, Natasha Singer reported that popular sites aimed at children and run by companies like McDonalds, Nickelodeon, Disney , and WebKinz are likely to begin asking for parental permission when using cookies to track web browsing history.

Current federal regulations put in place by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) require parent permission when information such as email addresses, names, phone numbers, and home addresses are required from children under the age of 13. COPPA is the reason why kids under the age of 13 cannot have a Facebook account.

While new federal regulations designed to protect children even more are expected soon, it’s always important to have a conversation with your kids about the kinds of information they’re sharing online. Encourage kids to:

  • Think before you upload photos and video. It may be fun to take a photo or create a video using your computer’s built in webcam but where are those images and videos being stored? Have you ever thought about who might be able to see them after they’re shared? Talk to your child about the use of the camera on their home computer and how it not only captures their image but also what’s in the background that could give away important information about who they are and where they live. Discuss the fact that nothing is ever private on the internet, especially those user generated photos and videos your child just uploaded.
  • Discuss who it is and isn’t ok to share your name with. Personal privacy online is an important issue that is hard for kids to grasp. Just as you may not want to tell a stranger you meet in real life your name, you probably don’t want to share it on the internet either. Talk to kids about the difference of using your real name in an email to grandma, grandpa, and known friends and family members versus those on online sites. Work with your kids to develop an alias. Kids love pretending so talk to them about an online alias that they can always use on any website to keep their name private.

While federal regulations are designed to keep our kids safer when using their favorite sites, it’s dangerous to assume that your kids are knowledgeable about the risks and rewards of being online.

 Girl is using tablet PC in a cafe via Shutterstock

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John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted Addresses Online Safety During Today’s Livestreamed Panel

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Earlier this month Cox Communications released results from their Tweet Internet Safety Survey conducted in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

876 tweens ages 10-13 were interviewed along with their parents and findings indicated that while online safety is a major concern of parents of tweens and parents have done a good job of monitoring internet use on the computers, computers are only one way that tweens are accessing online content.  Mobile devices and gaming consoles are widely used but parental controls are rarely used, therefore leaving kids vulnerable.

What are the risks facing our kids when it comes to online behavior and the real world?

Join me and John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted today from 6-7 pm EST for a livestreamed panel where you can submit questions regarding safety issues affecting children and families.  Our conversation during the #CoxTakeCharge panel will focus on what can we do to make sure our kids are not engaging in risky behavior on social sites.

Event details:

  • Internet Safety with Cox Communications & America’s Most Wanted John Walsh
  • Thursday, June 28 from 6-7 pm EST


  • Leticia Barr, Tech Savvy Parents and
  • John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted


  • Jeanne Meserve, award-winning journalist and former CNN anchor

Participate by:

Young girl sitting down and working on the laptop with a surprised look via Shutterstock

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