Links in Virtual Social Networking Worlds for Kids

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MoshiMonsters.com

In this colorful world, kids create and name their own animated "monsters." Every creature begins with an empty "room," which quickly becomes the center of activity.
Players can decorate their rooms with exotic wallpaper and unusual furniture (I love my sludge fountain!) from shops like "Yukea" and "Bizarre Bazaar." Kids interact with their pets, feeding them and playing with them. (My monster even purrs when I scratch her ears!)
The room also has a clothes closet for outfits and accessories, and a garden, busy with bugs and birds. It's there that one plants special flower seeds in hopes of attracting a moshling, which is a sort of monster pet. Note well: certain species of moshlings prefer particular plots of flowers, so you'll have to check the online forum for the "secret" combinations to plant if you want a really choice moshling.
Of course all this landscaping and decorating costs money, I mean "rox," and you earn rox by playing games in the Puzzle Palace. There is a "Daily Challenge" you can only play once a day, and many other games you can play as often as you like, although you will only be "paid" for playing once a day. The games are mostly of the "Brain Age" type: they involve letters, numbers, words, shapes, and colors. As you play, your monster watches from the sidelines. (Mine either jumps for joy at a high score, or bawls loudly if I'm not even trying!) The games change too: if you're struggling, they get easier, if you're really good at one, it ups your challenge level.
There is no live chat feature in the game, although players can leave notes to each other on the public pin board in each monster's room. The messages are filtered and monitored, as are posts in the forums.
It seems to work very well and handily walks the line between "wide-open but risky" social networking and "locked down but way short of fun." It appeals to many age groups from reading age and up, and there is even a forum for (ahem!) adult players! Be sure to "friend" me if you visit. Look for Netmom!

Fantage.com

You'll need to complete an email activation process to do anything here, and that includes setting what level of chat you want to have, if any. Once you're in, there's a nice scrolling virtual world to explore, and you can have a house, some items, and play fun games for free. A monthly fee is required for 'premium membership,' which gets you additional "stars" (money) to buy special items. As you wander around you'll find out there are quests to acheive, characters to talk to, and more.

Whyville.net

This free site is aimed at preteens and teens, and parents are warned that it is not monitored 24/7. New members are limited to "safe chat" using a predefined vocabulary. Eventually  you get your "chat license" and can speak more freely. While a profanity filter is in use, you can also set your preferences to "things I don't want to hear" and "things I don't want to say." For example, parents could set a child's phone number in the latter box. However, there are ways to get around things like this--it's not 100% protection and you shouldn't think of it that way. The good news is that there are plenty of self-policing community tools where members can be reported to the Whyville authorities. The site features a rich landscape of areas to visit (some are out of this world) and a number of educational games

Club Penguin

Before you can play, you'll have to validate a parent's e-mail address, but after that, welcome to the chilly but fun world of Club Penguin. There is a free version and a "fee" membership version, but both offer games, "safe chat," and a fully monitored world.

 

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