This post is sponsored by Club Penguin & “This is My Story…and I’m Sticking To It” (an iPad app). Both companies contacted me recently to ask me to share the news with you about their products so instead of the hum drum reviews you’re use to reading I’m going to talk about how we use technology with our children. Let’s start the discussions…
…oh, and there is a giveaway at the end if you are interested.
If you’ve never visited me before I have 2 kids. Big B/Big Brother is 8 years old and just finished 2nd grade. Lil’ B is our darling red-headed tot who is 2 1/2 yrs old. It’s hard as a mom who is ALWAYS online to shun your children from technology. I think there is a lot of value in letting your children explore and learn with the help of all these fabulous tools we have available these days. We have plenty of options around our house for the kids to explore with – the Wii, the DS, multiple laptops, 3 iPhones, 1 iPad, television, and a Kindle…did I miss anything?
Mr. Clause (Santa) delivered my son a softly reused laptop 2 years ago on Christmas morning. It had a nice shiny new skin on it and a note that said Merry Christmas, Love Santa! My son thought he was the coolest kid ever now that he (at age 6) had his very own laptop just like mommy and daddy. Our school system is blessed with a gorgeous computer lab full of Mac computers for the kids to learn and explore while at school. I’m slightly jealous that my son has more experience behind the Mac than I do (as I sit in front of my 6mo old Sony VAIO). He’s very proficient working any computers but he’s still learning how to best find games and fun activities without my help. Especially since Mr. Google can bring up some questionable material when a child is entering their information.
Now I’ve never been one to spend a lot of money on the fancy kid safe search and protection software that’s available; I’m just too frugal to spend money where mommy should be. If my child is online I should be the one deciding what is appropriate for him to see and play. However I do agree that some level of protection is needed so we’ve set his computer with the PG security settings and restricted some of the features. This also makes it difficult when mommy or daddy want to do something very quickly while his computer is running. Oh, well the price you pay for ensuring your child’s safety.
Where do I allow my child to go online? Almost anywhere he likes. He doesn’t ask to get online very often but when he does it’s usually because he’s asked me a question I don’t know the answer to. Like “Mommy, why do giraffe’s have black tongues?” or something obscure like that. (By the way – they are black so they don’t get sunburned – according to our local zookeeper.) We end up visiting sites like National Geographic for kids, he loves NASA kids, you can find kids sites around every click of the keyboard. But what about playing games?
In the past we’ve had a few Webkins which he played with until he ran out of coins or whatever you need to continue playing for free. We’ve gone online with the occasional McDonald’s code. And thanks to Club Penguin we now have 6 months to play with their website too. I’m always weary of the sites that have chat features – especially when mommy is busy making dinner or potty training Lil’ B and can’t watch everything that is going on online. After receiving our introductory membership through Club Penguin I allowed him to play freely for about a week to see what he thought about the site. He didn’t ask to go on it often but 2-3 times that week he was playing with his Penguin and trying to collect Puffle’s.
Finally after that first week I started asking him questions about the game and/or site. Some of the questions I asked were specifically to check for the safety of the site.
- Do you ever talk with other people on the site?
- Has anyone ever sent you a message?
- What do they say to you when they talk to you?
- Has anyone asked you your name or where you live?
- What have you told them when they ask?
- What would you do if…scenarios.
He was pretty open with me but I still didn’t feel very confident without seeing for myself. A few days later we sat down together while he played for about 20 minutes. He was zooming around the Penguin town – going to play games here and there. He told me he was afraid he’d left his puffle’s alone for too long and that they might have left the igloo. He also told me he was out of money and couldn’t buy any more puffle’s. During our time online he showed me his messages (all standard pre-written post cards) he’s received from online friends. Overall I felt pretty comfortable with the site especially after seeing the “M” badge at the top of the screen which allows kids to report any unusual behavior to an adult moderator.
While prepping to write this I decided to go online the Parents section and look around. I’m really impressed with the ability to restrict his chat features to Ultimate – which limits what they can say to pre-determined messages. I was also excited to see the timer feature where I could set the time for how long I felt he needed to play online each day. (I set ours at 30 minutes a day – but that’s just me.) I was kinda sad that I didn’t take the time to set this up in advance and that the game didn’t encourage parents to personalize the options. Sure they offered it as a feature when you signed up but there was nothing to encourage me (aside from my child’s personal safety) to go online and do that. As you can tell – if I hadn’t been writing this post for you I probably wouldn’t have bothered to take the time and do that. It’s not that I don’t care – but with a toddler running around and hanging on my legs all day time is very limited. (Just being honest here people!) My only other negative comment (which has a positive follow up) is about the coins and the puffle’s.
My puffle and coin rant: I know these sites need to make money to keep them going but I get personally annoyed with how fast kids run out of coins to continue to play with their puffle’s. I mean, unless he’s always playing games he doesn’t even have money left to feed his puffle’s.
Which if I’m only allowing him to play a maximum of 30 minutes a day (thankfully the timer will keep up with this since I tend to forget) he’s always afraid his puffle’s are going to get hungry and/or leave the igloo. Thankfully (yes, this is my positive follow up to my personal rant) Club Penguin sends Parent Updates to my email. If I actually take the time to read them I will see that they give parents coins that they can award to their kids. This could be a great incentive to get kids to help out around the house more – or to reward them for good behavior at the end of the week! Great job Disney/Club Penguin on thinking of this one for us frugal parents who don’t buy coins to keep imaginary computer animals alive! Overall – he’s having fun with Club Penguin so I’ll let him keep playing. When our membership runs out then I’ll decide if it’s a good investment of our time and money to allow him to keep playing the paid site. They do have a free membership option too but I’m sure he’d get bored with that option before too long.
Other media and technology:
Wii – I can restrict what he plays and for how long (as long as I’m paying attention). We don’t buy games that are too advanced – the worst he gets to play is Star Wars which does have some violence (think Lightsaber battle’s and killing droids all day).
DS – the kid is addicted to his DS. He could spend all day on this thing seriously! I wish it had a built in time that would shut itself off after 30 minutes!
iPhones – yeah, he wants to use ours all the time but we limit his use of the phones since we actually have to use them for 2 years before we can replace them. Daddy is more paranoid about this one than I am but I can only imagine how upset I’d be if he broke our iPhone playing a silly game.
iPad – again, very limited use but I’m trying to be more trusting with the iPad. He probably has just as many apps on there as I do. Lately he’s been playing the Smurf’s game which is truly starting to annoy me! Think Puffle’s only w
ith fruit. When his garden is ready to be harvested the darn thing pushes a notification to the iPad (enter annoying beep – that he ALWAYS hears) that it’s time to pick the berries. If you don’t get to the berries quick enough they die! Seriously – if you don’t play this game ALL DAY – your berries will die! He actually told me last night “Mommy if you hear the beep you have to go on and pick my berries for me. Pleeeeease!” UGH!
Thankfully the “This is My Story…and I’m Sticking To It” iPad app (also available on iPhone and iPod) doesn’t have any of those annoying features. It let’s the kids create a story using virtual stickers. It’s actually very clever – they get to play with stickers and my iPad and I don’t have to worry about real stickers all over the house! It saves the story for you too so you can reread it with your child when they are done. I don’t normally pay for apps but the $0.99 app is an occasional treat for my kids. Especially when there is no chatting, no violence, and no stupid berries to pick!
Closing thoughts on technology and my kids – you have to be a responsible parent and monitor what your children are doing online. There are too many horror stories out there not to pay attention. In real life however parents get busy and can’t look over their shoulders 24 hours a day. It’s nice to know that sites like Club Penguin exist that allow a child to play safely online just be sure you take the extra 5 minutes it took me to set up the security features. While we try to limit their time online and playing video games technology is a fact of life – our children can’t really escape it and I don’t want to take that away from them either. After all I spend over 8 hours a day (probably more) online myself and I’m the only one who can monitor my behaviors.
Oh and a word of caution – my 8 year old was smart enough to figure out how to work around the Facebook security and set up his own account without asking me. He didn’t think I would find out – even when he ‘friended’ me on Facebook. LOL! Kids are smart and we shouldn’t forget that.
Want to win a 6 month membership to Club Penguin and a cute little penguin plush toy? Simply leave a comment below telling me how you use technology with your kids. Do you have time limits? Do you have parental controls? How do you monitor what your kids do online?
Bonus entry: Share this post with your friends up to 5 times a day for bonus entries into the giveaway. Leave a separate comment for each entry.
Giveaway rules: Open to all residents of the US over the age of 18 yrs old. Deadline to enter is Tuesday, June 28th at midnight ET.
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