Parents need to know that although this site is a fun way to introduce kids to the world of avatars and social networking, they'll want to sit down with younger kids and explain the iffy situations that can go on in penguin land. While kids do have a chance to mingle and make friends, they're also exposed to some not-so-friendly behavior, which could be upsetting to children who don't know how to deal with rejection and/or bullying just yet.
For example, instead of using words to negotiate friendships, it's very easy in this virtual world to get a mean face icon in response to "Wanna be friends?" Then the mean penguin is gone and the hurt, friendless penguin is left alone wondering what he did wrong. You can also throw snowballs at random penguins for no apparent reason.
The thorough "Parents Guide" section helps adults navigate the site and its features. In order to keep the site ad-free, you do have to pay to become a member—there are free memberships, but paid members can buy things like clothing and furniture for their igloo. There's also a "Club Penguin Shop" that sells non-virtual goods like shirts, hats, and keychains.
Families can talk about chat etiquette, Internet safety, and virtual worlds:
- What's the best way to approach a new person online?
- Why would someone be mean to someone he or she never met?
- What can you say or do if another penguin (or real-life person, for that matter) is mean to you? Why is using words a good way to deal with a conflict?
- What social behaviors is a virtual world teaching?
- Do you think networking sites help build good relationships? Why or why not?
- How would you make friends offline?
Common Sense Review
Have you ever wondered what penguins do for fun? Hanging around the South Pole is a thrill, but when a penguin really wants to chill out and kick back, he waddles over to the club. ClubPenguin.com, that is.
Create a free account, pick a name and a penguin color, and you're on your way. But first, parents need to choose what kind of chat their kids can use. There's "Ultimate Safe-Chat," which allows users to converse using a substantial list of standardized, controlled common greetings, questions, and answers. Parents can choose to put in their own password in order to change the chat settings later.
There's also the more conventional chat mode ("Standard Safe-Chat") for older kids that lets users type freely. It's filtered to screen out profanity (a swear word will get your penguin banned for 24 hours) and bullying, although the site warns it's not infallible.
A parent's email is required to activate any penguin who wants to use either type of chat, but it's easy for kids to type in their own email address or create an account and have the activation email sent there. For added security, human monitors are watching, and kids can click on an "M" icon on the upper, right-hand portion of the screen to report a "bad" penguin.
Once you've gotten him or her set up, your little penguin lands in the center of town and can explore many rooms and environments—from a café to a pet store to a disco where users can try some fancy dance moves.
For kids who don't enjoy tackling the virtual avatar world (or are too young to know how to), ClubPenguin.com also has fun games to play in almost every place on the site. Kids can catch bags of coffee beans as they're tossed off the delivery truck or race another player down the ski slope.
Finding a game isn't necessarily obvious, though, and most often you'll just happen to stumble upon one. Each game wins you virtual coins, which paid members can use to "buy" virtual clothes and outfit their igloos with the latest gear. Unfortunately, there's very little you can spend the coins on if you're not a paid member.
Kids under 12 probably won't come to ClubPenguin.com to have meaningful conversations and make long-lasting friends, but they'll enjoy just waddling around checking out different scenes and playing the games.
Fans of this site might also enjoy Nicktropolis.com.
Reviewed By: Jean Armour Polly and Heidi Kotansky