Children are known to share passwords to gain acceptance or show “true friendship,” forgetting that even friends get mad sometimes or move on to be somebody’s else’s “BFF” (“best friend forever”) instead.
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Language filters help, but kids can be creative with workarounds (see below).
The main thing you need to know is that virtual worlds are user-driven: Positive experiences depend on users’ behavior toward each other and how well the space is supervised.
See how they earn points or coins (often by playing in-world games) and how much focus is placed on having more stuff than the next avatar.
Some worlds have opportunities for real and virtual charitable giving and public service.
Explore the site’s safety features – ideally, right alongside your child.
Virtual worlds aimed at children should have a section for parents that discusses their safety tools.
Behaviorally, kids’ virtual worlds can be a lot like school play spaces, so be aware that even with controlled chat and tech and human moderation in place, kids sometimes find ways to be mean. Even if you, like so many parents, think your child would never be a bully, make sure he or she knows that it definitely pays not to be.
Examples include kids abusing the abuse-reporting system to get peers kicked out by telling on them when they haven’t broken any rules; using a blocking tool to ignore and ostracize someone; and designing alternative spelling and other creative ways around language filters (such as asking someone’s age with “How many dots r u? Research shows that kids who engage in aggressive behavior are more than twice as likely to be victimized.
The most likely risks in kids’ virtual worlds, just like on school playgrounds, are cyberbullying or peer harassment and social-circle drama – including clubby behavior and kids playing “teenager” and talking about “boyfriends,” “girlfriends,” “breakups,” etc.
The latter escalates and gets more sexually charged as they head into middle-school age.
The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is actively involved in investigating suspicious behaviour online with or towards a child.