Connect Safely, which is great parenting and online child safety resource run by my friends Anne Collier and Larry Magid, has just released some excellent “Virtual World Safety Tips for Parents of Teens.” Tons of good advice in there worth checking out, especially the thing I always focus on in all my online safety work—talk to your kids!! Here’s Anne and Larry on that point:
Talk with your teens about the virtual worlds they use – ask them to show you around. See what their avatars look like and what screen names they’ve chosen to represent themselves. What do their profiles and the appearance of their avatars say about them? Try to hold back snap judgments (long-term guidance usually works better than control if the goal is learning rather than short-term compliance – see this). Are their virtual-world profiles linked to social-network ones, and how much do those linked-up profiles together reveal about them – too much? Are their in-world friends mostly friends they know in real life? If not, do they know that they can’t really know who people are online unless they know them offline?
It’s about getting a dialogue going with your kids. That is so absolutely essential and it would help head off about 90% of the problems that develop online today with kids. Kids need mentoring, whether its in meatspace or cyberspace. But make sure to read all the Connect Safely tips. They are excellent.
Incidentally, I talked about some of these issues when I did a virtual guest lecture in Second Life last October hosted by Metanomics. The show was called “Live Free and Prosper: Government’s Place in Virtual Worlds and On-line Communities,” and I posted all the video clips here. I also encourage those of you interested in these issues to check out these recent TLF guest posts by Joshua Fairfield an Associate Professor of Law at Washington & Lee University School of Law. He recently posted and interesting essay entitled, “Virtual Paternalism” as well as a summary and discussion of the recent “FTC Report on Kids and Virtual Worlds.” Worth reading.