What do kids do when they’re too old for Webkinz World but too young for Facebook? Well it seems that they join Moshi Monsters. My daughter wanted to join so I took a quick look at the site and let her sign up. The website combines some of the fun of Webkinz — adopting a virtual pet (in this case a monster), earning points (“Rox”) by playing educational games in order to “buy” things for the monster — with a few of the social networking features of Facebook, like connecting with friends and sending messages.
At first I was a bit worried when my daughter started exhibiting some obsessive behavior with the site, logging on often to see if she had any messages (kind of like me when I first joined Facebook). I asked her to show me how it works and how she interacts with people on the site. Members of the site can add each other as “friends”, just like on Facebook. They have to know each other’s “user names” first and then they can invite them to be listed on their “friend tree”. Once added, they can post messages on each others “pinboards”.
My daughter had a bunch of friends and I asked her, who are these little monsters? Most were friends from her 4th grade class in school. But a few were random people she didn’t know. I explained that while her new friend is probably 9-year old Jenny from Des Moines, it could well be 52-year old Ralph from Denver. So I had her delete them from her “friend tree” and told her she can only be “friends” with people that she knows. Since then she has only befriended classmates.
Then we talked about what kinds of conversations she was having online. Most of it was innocent enough – chit-chat about school and stuff, like a continuation of recess. While some of the “who likes who” and “did you hear what so and so said” were innocent enough, I reminded her that anyone of her Moshi friends can read the messages she “accepts” on the pinboard. (She can also choose to keep a message private). We discussed what types of things would be inappropriate to talk about online. Also of note, messages are screened by the system, and kids can tag messages as inappropriate, which are then reviewed. Evidentially there are forums and portions of the site you have to pay for, but so far my daughter hasn’t mentioned the forums, and there seems to be enough to do on the site without having to pay for more, so we probably won’t go down that road.
In a previous post I talked about things parents should keep in mind if their kids are on Facebook and I would suggest similar guidelines for Moshi or any other site, such as:
- Sign up using an e-mail account that I have access to (it is helpful that on Moshi, parental permission is needed for kids under age 13.)
- Share her password with me so I could log into her account if necessary.
- Set some ground rules, such as only accept a friend request from someone who you actually know.
- Go through all the privacy and account settings with her step-by-step.
The reality is kids go online these days so might as well teach them early how to do it appropriately, in a somewhat safe environment. At this age screen-time limits might not be a bad idea. Everything in moderation.