Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
While online virtual worlds are an incredibly popular way to have fun with friends on the Internet in a seemingly trustworthy environment, the truth is that there are a number of potential concerns and dangers that parents and users of all ages should be aware of.
The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) reports that the biggest concerns for parents about virtual worlds for both kids (7 an under) and tweens (8 to 12) is online safety and exposure to online predators.
This is made possible due to the very social nature of these virtual worlds, which are essentially forms of social networks for kids with more of an emphasis on graphics than words.
Going beyond general online safety fears, key concerns parents have about virtual worlds from the ENISA report include:
– Exposure to harmful or illegal content, such as pornography or gambling
– Interaction with ill-intentioned adults masquerading as children
– Identity theft
– Health issues related to spending too much time on computer and not enough time outside
– Unauthorized spending
While these are all legitimate concerns, all reputable virtual world sites take steps to prevent misuse or abuse by users which parents should be aware of.
For starters, any service aimed at kids age 13 and under must be compliant with the U.S.’s stringent COPPA regulations, designed to protect the online privacy of minors.
The creators of these sites that are used by kids also offer many parental control options via a parental control panel, which also can generate usage reports and monitoring about not only how long kids are playing, but what types of activities they are participating in.
And because gamers in these virtual worlds are always connected online, the game’s developers can track and record every movement, interaction and purchase that gamers do while online. Companies do this not necessarily with the player’s best interest in mind, but rather to be able to better tune and enhance their worlds based on how players are using them. But for parents concerned about online safety, this practice is a nice consequence.
It is definitely worth noting though that for those parents more concerned about online privacy that are lax to share ANY information about their children, obviously you’re giving up some anonymity by participating in virtual worlds, even if the data collected can’t be connected to your specific children.
A Bit More About Chat in Virtual Worlds
A key part of these online virtual worlds is also the chat function. There are many solutions available to help prevent unwanted and undesired contact from others.
There are two ways that chat can be moderated in virtual worlds. The first is by controlling which other users players can interact with, and the second involves the types of communication they can engage in.
As a basic option, many virtual worlds offer “restricted chat.” This means that not only are users restricted to talking with others on their dual-approved friend list, but there are also limited, pre-written chat options for them to use.
Older kids may be allowed more chat freedom, but most virtual worlds still have a list of words they will not allow, as well as restrict interactions with others.
And nearly all have live, human moderators that are on hand roaming the world to watch out for any bad or questionable behavior, or who can immediately respond should you click the handy and usually prominent “report” button.
Other Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Virtual Worlds
The US government has a website at OnGuardOnline.gov that offers many online safety tips, including those specific to virtual worlds. Among the recommendations are for parents to check out online destinations themselves and engage in specific conversations about how and when they’ll be visiting these virtual worlds.
Parents can also look for third-party certifications on sites such as the TrustE online privacy Trustmark, the kidSAFE Seal or the FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com Seal of Approval. All of these indicate that the site has been checked out by a third-party for safety, privacy and other concerns.
When you run your own business, organization is key. Your clients won’t be impressed if you lose their commissions under a tangle of files, and your employees especially won’t be impressed if you forget to pay them. Luckily, the best tools and programs for keeping your business organized are cheap. Even better, many of them are free.
From accounting software to social media to task management to plain ol’ foolscap and ball-point pens, here are five of the best tools for organizing your small business.
Outright.com – Need help corralling your finances? Outright is there to help you. You can use Outright to import bank and credit card statements, and generate reports outlining profit and loss. Even better, Outright can provide a running estimate of how much you may owe the taxman at the end of the fiscal year.
GroSocial – Communication via social media is an increasingly effective way to put your business in the public eye. GroSocial can help you spruce up your company’s Twitter and Facebook pages with campaigns, including contests, giveaways, and more.
Google Calendar – Google Calendar provides the ultimate in time management—and it’s free to use as long as you have a Google account. You can use Google Calendar to mark appointments, share event dates, and much more. All your plans and data are stored to the cloud, so you can access it anywhere, anytime, even if your own hard drive decides to have an unfortunate meltdown.
HootSuite – HootSuite lets you manage your social media applications from one dashboard. Keep tabs on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, FourSquare, Google+, and much more with one program. You can also use HootSuite to track your site’s social stats and analytics.
Pens and paper – Sounds a bit silly and primitive, right? Not in the least. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you can’t slap down your ideas or the important points of a phone call on a computer or a smartphone. Always make sure you have a pen and paper nearby. You don’t know when inspiration is going to strike, nor do you know when an especially important bit of information is going to come sailing your way.
For more suggestions on tools and programs that will keep you and your business organized, visit:
10 Helpful Social Management Tools at Business Insider
270+ Tools for Running a Business Online at Mashable
News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.
We’ve given you the basic facts about virtual worlds, talked about some of the key concerns and broken down the 10 most important terms to know about virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. Now we’re ready to provide with you some recommendations. The following is a sampling of the most popular and best online virtual worlds and MMOs for kids. A few of these are our personal favorites, and a few we had no choice but to include based on their popularity. Certainly there are others that didn’t make our top 10 virtual worlds for kids list, so feel free to recommend others in the comments.
Animal Jam – Brought to you by National Geographic Kids, Animal Jam is aimed at early-elementary aged users and has an educational aspect to its minigames and social interactions. With cute, customizable animal characters, and events and happenings that change with the calendar, Animal Jam encourages players to come back again and again to experience different aspects of the game.
Cartoon Universe – This Internet universe (an online massively multiplayer virtual world built just for kids that exists and evolves 24/7) lets children connect with one another and investigate worlds inspired by popular series such as Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo, while enjoying safe and fun experiences in the company of other live players.
Clone Wars Adventures – Set in the Star Wars universe between Episodes II and III, Clone Wars Adventures is based on the style of the popular cartoon, and features daily activities, mini-games, captivating planets and more, all within the realm of the Star Wars universe. There are even appearances from Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin and more. Monthly memberships are available for $5.99 per month.
Club Penguin – Disney’s most popular online world, Club Penguin is a wintry-themed collection of mini-games for players that are designed to be fun and highly-replayable. Featuring a very appealing cartoon-style artwork, Club Penguin is designed for kids of all ages to enjoy, including very young ones. There are extensive moderated chat and friend-filtering options available, and due to the size of the game’s subscriber base, there are often many in-game charity drives that take place.
Fantage – Fantage is a virtual world for kids that provides customizable, cartoony avatars that can be used to participate in a variety of fun and educational activities. Some of the games in Fantage are designed to be enjoyed by multiple players, so enlisting your friend’s help is encouraged. Many schools around the country even use Fantage’s geography, logic and math games to enhance their curriculum.
FusionFall – FusionFall features characters and locations made famous by Cartoon Network’s colorful cast. Throughout the game, you’ll meet grown-up, evil and pint-sized versions of Ben 10, Dexter, the Powerpuff Girls, and more of the network’s top stars.
Space Heroes Universe – Designed by parents, Space Heroes Universe is designed to be extremely kid- and family-friendly, placing players in the role of adorably customizable space heroes who travel to various themed planets such as a forest world or icy planet, taking part in mini-games, solving mysteries and discovering rare items. Memberships provide enhanced features and access to additional items, and cost $6 per month or $54 per year.
Minecraft – Minecraft is the ultimate online sandbox, in which players create their own structures and communities out of various bricks, while working to avoid attacks by monsters. The simplicity of the game’s objectives and operations lead to a great complexity and diversity of user-generated creations. There’s a free sample version available on the site, or players can join the Minecraft world for a one-time fee of $26.95.
Moshi Monsters – Moshi Monsters invites players to adopt an exceptionally cute pet monster, who must be lavished with a combination of funny, gross and weird items to be kept happy. Players will rely heavily on the game’s in-game currency of Rox, playing daily mini-games to earn more money while connecting with friends. Moshi Monsters saw it’s popularity surge when if switched to a free-to-play model, and offers greatly enhanced memberships after players have already started for $5.95 per month or $49.95 per year.
Skylanders Universe – This online virtual world is sort of a companion to the wildly popular Skylanders video game franchise in which players use real-life figurine toys and place them on a “portal of power” to bring them to life within the game. The game has the same art style, music and other sounds as the games, but is mostly a fun place to play mini-games and play with your Skylanders in diffeerne tways. Skylanders Universe is free-to-play, provided you have purchased Skylanders toys, which can be input into the game using either a USB-attached Portal of Power or the unique ID code that comes in every package.
Wizard 101 – Become a student at the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts and learn the various aspects of magic to equip yourself for a battle against the evil Malistaire and his evil minions. Wizard 101 remains one of the most popular online virtual worlds, and offers memberships starting at $9.95 per month.