There's an online home for nearly everyone these days, whether you're into battling foes as an elf, managing your farm, or simply having a conversation with a random person elsewhere on the planet. However, as many parents have learned the hard way, not all online communities or virtual worlds are guaranteed to be appropriate for children all the time. Rather than ban non-family friendly sites entirely, why not simply restrict your child's access to more age appropriate venues, and gradually loosen the controls to allow a transition from kid-oriented sites to ones designed more for teenagers as time passes? While there's no guarantee that this will solve all parent-child conflicts, here are some options for kids, tweens and teens which have been shown to be quite popular.
The first site on our list, Club Penguin is run by Disney, and is geared for younger children, starting at around age 6. Players create a cartoon penguin, customizable in different colors and with a variety of outfits, and from there decorate the penguin's igloo with in-game items. There are paid and free options, with some items and outfits exclusively available to paying members. Club Penguin also has live chat with other players, which employs both filtering mechanisms and live moderators who monitor interactions to ensure age-appropriateness, and to make sure no identifying personal information is shared. Though the game has been criticized by some for encouraging consumerism among younger children due to in-game advertising, it doesn't seem to be much worse than most social gaming sites. In an attempt to counteract such claims, Disney introduced an in-game charity called "Coins for Change", which has occurred during the holiday season regularly since 2007. Paid memberships are $5.95 to $57.95, depending on the duration of the membership.
This community, geared for kids age 6-14 markets itself as "The Cheerio™" in a world where most other online communities are "Chocolate Fudge". One can take the meaning to be that this particular community's games and quests are focused on actual academic knowledge, particularly various fields in science, and many of the NPCs are recognizable historical figures with whom kids can interact and ask questions. There are free and paid options, which range from $5.95 to $34.95, based on the duration of the membership. Paid members have access to special quests, pets, and an option for parents to dole out a monthly allowance of SuperShills, the game's virtual currency, in return for real-world good behavior. On the whole, this concept seems as though, if applied properly, it could not only provide a good online outlet for younger internet users, but also enhance learning and school performance, which is always a plus.
Whyville, launched in 1999, is one of the oldest online communities for younger internet users, and may seem unglamorous by some kids at first glance, but to take a deeper look, it is easy to see why this community is still going strong. Whyville works directly with NASA, Getty, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and several others to provide cutting edge resources and access to scientific developments aimed at keeping kids, and in particular girls, interested in math and science. In addition to more educational pursuits, Whyville offers standard online community stuff, such as customizable avatars, chat rooms, and eye-catching environments. Whyville is one of the few communities where membership is 100% free and includes access to all areas of the site.
Pet Society, which is a social game playable through Facebook, is a favorite among adults and younger users alike. Due to Facebook's age policy, players must be at least 13 and in school, or 18 and over, which is appealing for teenagers who are bored of interacting with much younger players on sites exclusive to the under 14 set. In Pet Society, players create their ultimate pet from the ground up, and are given a basic house in which their pet lives. When the pet goes outside, he or she will see the houses of other pets created by friends of the player, which all appear to be in the same neighborhood. In-game currency, simply referred to as "coins", can be earned by grooming, feeding, and visiting friends and interacting with their pets. Some of these tasks also earn points towards a leveling system, the rewards for which can include additional rooms in the house, new accessories and extra coins. Coins can be used to purchase clothing, decor and snacks from the town merchants, as well as options for actual cash payments. Pet Society does not employ a free/paid membership as many other sites listed here do. Instead, it is always free to play, but there are many luxury and premium items that are only available in shops via direct pay.