Undercover Mom in BarbieGirls.com, Part 2: Talking numbers
By Sharon Duke Estroff
week’s post continues detailing my investigation of Barbie Girls, and
the crown jewels and skeletons in the closet that I uncovered there.
Crown jewel: Number-blocking filters Part
of the appeal of children's virtual worlds like BarbieGirls.com exists
in their conversational filters, one of the most notable functions of
which is weeding out mention of any specific numbers in both written
and numeric form (i.e. “7” or “seven”). The driving wisdom, here, is
that without numbers, kids cannot reveal personal information such as
age, address, and phone number - which could put them at risk of being
targeted by an online predator. From a parental perspective, I found
this feature both comforting and welcome. Not only does it place a
significant barrier between Internet ne’er-do-wells and our children,
it also helps to teach kids the difference between safe and unsafe
online chat. Skeleton in the Closet: Kids' own workarounds But
just how effective are these filters? Strictly speaking they get the
job done. Every time I tried typing a number in Barbie Girls, a series
of nonsensical symbols (i.e. #*#*) would appear in its place. But
digital natives can be very clever and creative when it comes to
working around Web site safety features. In one virtual world I
visited, I witnessed kids asking one another “How many dots are you?”
then tapping out the appropriate response with a sequence of periods.
On Barbie Girls, a common tactic is using homonyms and rhyming words in
place of numbers. I managed to snap a couple of screenshots
demonstrating this technique in action during an open party in another
Barbie Girls swanky studio apartment. In the first screenshot,
PRINCESSCAALAZ is saying “Get it?” “The Number” “Won and Too” (meaning
"12"). “Yes,” replies the avatar sitting next to her. Then, in the
PRINCESSCAALAZ is stating that she is “the number before,” or 11. At
this point, SALOOMY, the girl with the brown legwarmers, announces that
she is “mine,” otherwise known as "nine."
Indeed, BarbieGirls.com’s conversational filters make it exceedingly
difficult for kids to spill their essential 411 on the website. Parents
should be aware, however, that it is not impossible for children to
reveal their essential FOR WON WON on this or any other Web site. As in
the real world, children’s virtual-world activity requires ongoing
parental supervision and involvement.
SHARON DUKE ESTROFF
Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, 2007). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Scholastic Parent and Child, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She is a parenting blogger for Huffington Post. Sharon is the creator of CHALLENGE ISLAND enrichment classes, camps, and birthday parties which provide imagination-fueled learning adventures to children while fostering their critical and creative thinking skills.