I adore this post on Net Family News, written by “undercover mom” Sharon Duke Estroff. I love it because it is simple, to the point, and therefore quite powerful.
She tells a story of forbidden love between two penguins that can’t be rivaled even by the last Bachelor series. Posing as just a regular old character in Club Penguin, a social world for kids (designed for 6-14 year olds according to the site), Estroff finds herself in the midst of a huge singles scene. She’s hanging out in a virtual pizza parlor with a swanky penguin named “Cowboy217,” who offers to take her back to his place. There, at his pad, they play Truth or Dare, and the CP version of spin the bottle (Spin the Lava). Then, they kiss. And when Cowboy feels the moment is right, he asks for her flipper in marriage. Why do I get the feeling she is not the only one?
Poor Estroff doesn’t know what to do. For she, too, is already taken (a married mother of four IRL, according to her post). But, her heart wins out and she accepts. End scene.
What’s the messagage here? Well, there are several. One is simple — kids will experiment sexually no matter where you put them. You may be shocked by this scenario (which according to Estroff is very common in CP), but when you consider the “real world” games of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” as well as the same Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle games mentioned above, most people shouldn’t be all that surprised. Unless they forgot what they were doing in elementary school and junior high…
Another message is more developmental. This scene, to me, is relatively normative for kids who are going through puberty (OK, except for the marriage part — still not sure about that Penguin custom? Can’t they just go out or be each other’s sweeties?). But the site says it is for kids between 6-14 years old! Since when did we ever think an age grouping that large was a good idea? I am wondering what would happen if a 6-year-old was propositioned by Cowboy. Would the child on the other side of the online penguin even know what was going on? And, if so, would there be any psychological confusion or harm?
I think these are questions we need to consider as people of ALL ages venture into virtual worlds. And to do that, we are going to have to acknowledge that we are sexual beings throughout our lifespan (yes, even small children have some essence of sexuality) — and a computer screen might not only not slow that down, it might actually speed it up.