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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone, yup, I'm out of the loop. My DD, who is age 15, but has some emotional/mild mental disabilities, has become interested in the internet. I know she wants to be like other kids, but she is not mature as other kids her age, and she can be impulsive and make poor decisions (LOL, poorer than most 15 year olds, that is!)

Anyhow, she has become interested in Gaia.com, which I am told is a website where you play a game? I looked at it, and all it looked like to me was a bunch of chat rooms. She has been going to that site while she is supervised by her PCA (personal care attendant), and the PCA has also expressed concerns about this site. DD (of course) tells me that we are overreacting. So I figured I'd as you on-line savvy moms (and dads) if you think this site is appropriate for a 15 year old to access once or twice a week (we don't have internet at home, so she has to go there at the library, with her PCA), or if we need to set stronger limits--please don't flame me, it's tough to balance the freedom that a 15 year old craves with the fact that she doesn't function like a 15 year old--I'm trying to be a good mom.
 

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I am the mother to a 15 yr old girl too and have never heard of this site. I would be interested in knowing about it too.
I think that as long as you are aware of what your daughter is doing and trying to be proactive, you are being a wonderful mother. I hope you get the answers you are looking for. I am going to mention the site to my daughter in the morning and see if she knows anything about it. I know she hasnt gone on it at home, but she could have at a friends house.
 

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I would go and look at it myself and see what is there first hand. I would be all over that thing. A lot of sites have games as a side-line, but they have other offerings as well. Some of the games can be pretty lame, but we have found some totally inappropriate for a decent person. In our house, when it doubt - you get out.
 

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Does she have any way to access the internet without direct one on one supervision? If the answer is yes, even once and a while, then teach her what is not ok to see and do in a chat room. Depending on her personality you can convince her to be a "guardian" reporting bad behavior, inappropriate words and what not. This will help if an adult isn't around.

Whether the answer is yes or not start steering her toward other things on the net. There is a site for every thing so get creative. If she likes cats and funny sayings www.icanhascheezeburger.com is terrific and funny. It allows people to add captions to cat pictures. There is one for dogs but I cannot remember the address. A good forum might be an acceptable replacement for chat. There are kid forums for various things and they are usually safer than a chat room because it isn't as annonymous and things can be removed. Neopets used to be pretty cool. The kid and I used to each play there. I haven't been in years but you had a virtual pet and you played games to buy things or food for it.
 

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If your gut tells you something is wrong then take action. I'll tell you I have personal experience and there's a man who spent 8 years in federal prison because I took action. There are many programs out there which will allow you to 'watch' what your kid does on the computer. There's a free 'keylogger' which will let you see what they type in (you won't be able to see the other side). Its the program I used to find out enough to get the FBI involved in our case. If you want to know the name let me know.
 

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OK, the site you are referring to is www.gaiaonline.com. It is a community that includes chat rooms, games and an online role play game based on japanese manga (story books of anime charactersas opposed to comics or movies).

It is completely age appropriate, and involves real time conversation with other players, as well as providing a journal and virtual mall where she can shop for her avatar. As long as she is supervised during play, she should be fine. I personally am having trouble navigating the rpg and will have to ask my daughter for help!
 

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The mission of Gaia is:

Our vision is of a world where each of us is supported in realizing our highest selves, discovering our own individual gifts and strengths, and each contributing, in our own way, to a harmonious, diverse, creative, and collaborative future.

And so, we started this community with the intent of creating a space where people could come not just to remind each other to continue to follow our hearts, but to practice it. Our dream is for Gaia Community to be a sanctuary for individuals around the world who've committed to follow their deepest calling, and who will support each other in that commitment—offering encouragement and enthusiasm for each unique path.

If you randomly click around the site it looks pretty innocuous, a lot of activist lifestyle types living their version of the dream. That said... in clicking, admittedly for a relatively short period of time, this site did not appear to cater to, nor did it appear to have any security features for, children.

The caregiver has a reason to be concerned if she/you are not comfortable with an "alternative lifestyle." This is a very "eastern religions, yoga, tofu hugging, all animals are cute" type site. I would imagine if you post about your latest pig and how much bacon you took off him it would not go over well. And like all sites with a substantial bias and slant to the community, I don't think this site would particularly welcome "alternate" (read: conservative) views. Think "PETA."

But I most definitely am not seeing "games." "Games" I would define as tests of dexterity (Tetrus, for example) or mental skill (solitaire, chess, crossword puzzles) played against oneself or others. This is blogs and a forum set up.

I would ask your daughter to show you the "games." Because that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. This is an ADULT site.. rather like Homesteading Today is an adult site. We don't make provisions for kids here, no safety features, no warnings about sharing information, and no effort to censor topics to "kid friendly." Likewise, I don't see any effort to make Gaia.com into a kid friendly site. So if a kid is on there "playing games" I'd want to know what they mean by "playing games" and who they are playing them with.

Lastly... if your daughter starts throwing up resistance to giving up this site I'd use the history function of the browser to go back through to see what she is looking at and who she is talking to. The Gaia.com site, like Facebook or MySpace has profiles ... pictures and personal paragraphs.

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT ONLINE ANYONE CAN BE ANYTHING. Trust me. Among other things, it is what I do for a living. I launch companies that don't exist with products that haven't been produced... and unless you were sitting right here at my desk you'd have no idea that that website was a test, a product test on a grand scale. It takes absolutely NO cleverness whatsoever to find a picture of a cute guy and write up a sweet profile, and launch it... and see what the bait turns up.

And 15? Come on ladies.. show of hands... how many of us had a crush on a movie star or other male figure when we were 15? The internet makes those girlish crushes dangerous.. because all the little letters to our movie stars might yield a signed picture. Or we might buy merchandise with their picture on it. At best it might cost us some money. But in cyberspace developing a crush on someone you've met online, at 15, can have real and very unpleasant, consequences.

And this is something to bear in mind for anyone who has a daughter in their early teens. Crushes? They were thrilling and embarrassing. Remember? Not something you talked to your mother about... something you giggled with your girlfriends about. There's a period between around 11 and 17 when I would be watching my daughter's online activity like a hawk. Simply because between those years you believe, you dream, and if someone feeds into those dreams you don't have a safety valve that kicks in and says "yipes!"
 

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I'm pretty sure the site she is talking about is gaiaonline.com. It's an anime online chat site geared for teenagers. It has games too. You get to make your own avatar and can dress it up. When you play the games you win virtual money. You can buy new clothes, plan a house for yourself, go shopping with the "money". There is a section where you can interact with other avatar's walking around the town. If you have heard of webkinz, it's basically the same but geared for an older age. There is no killing or violence like World of Warcraft for instance. If you feel this is too old for her Webkinz might be a good alternative.

I have two sons that are familiar with the site. If you have more questions feel free to pm me.
 

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My dd has been on that site. She has a strong interest in Japanese art and fashion and posts to some of the sub-forums. She also has built her own guild and designs some for other kids...she is 13. I know my dd and look over her shoulder to see what she's doing at unexpected times, it all seems quite normal.
 

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I would be very careful letting your daughter play any online games that allow chatting. Our own daughter (14), who had never been any trouble to us or sneaky in any way, really let us down this summer. She's always been an A student, mature and responsible, and we had lectured all our kids about the dangers of the Internet since they were old enough to sit at the computer. We also supervised all their time online (we thought). We had allowed her to play a game called Runescape, with the agreement that the chat feature was turned off. It turns out she was contacting a boy on there, and then they exchanged phone numbers and were talking to each other late at night. She then created a secret Myspace account and the two were exchanging pictures.

Then when we found out (I noticed the unknown calls on the phone bill), she confessed part of what she had done. But she was still contacting the boy by using computers at her friend's house.

We are just lucky that this really was a young boy and not a predator or someone trying to convince her to meet him. I called his phone number and talked to his parents, and luckily they weren't hostile or defensive. She's been banned from the computer for everything except (supervised) homework now, and I put a password on it so nobody can get on without our knowledge. She also isn't allowed to sleep at anyone else's house, although her friends are welcome to sleep over here where I control the computer.

My other kids like computer games too. So they're allowed to play games that don't have any chat functions, like:

http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/games/index.html

http://www.nick.com/games/index.jhtml

http://www.nickjr.com/games/index.jhtml

http://www.bellasara.com/index_bs.aspx (about horses)
 

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But I most definitely am not seeing "games." "Games" I would define as tests of dexterity (Tetrus, for example) or mental skill (solitaire, chess, crossword puzzles) played against oneself or others. This is blogs and a forum set up.

I would ask your daughter to show you the "games." Because that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. This is an ADULT site.. rather like Homesteading Today is an adult site. We don't make provisions for kids here, no safety features, no warnings about sharing information, and no effort to censor topics to "kid friendly." Likewise, I don't see any effort to make Gaia.com into a kid friendly site. So if a kid is on there "playing games" I'd want to know what they mean by "playing games" and who they are playing them with.
For what it is worth, plenty of people consider RPGs (role playing games) to be games. One that people are familiar with for their children is the pokemon series. One of the more well-known adult games is World of Warcraft. I am not familiar with this particular site, but being able to play small games to win points or fake money to "buy" different avatars is a common feature. Being able to talk to other people is a common feature of many of these games too. They are called role playing games because you get a character and you play as if you were that character.

Because you CAN talk to other people, it is hard to ensure who your children are talking to. The danger is not the game itself, but the other people who could possibly be playing it. A lot of games have the ability to block users that you don't want to talk to. If there is someone she is talking to while you are supervising and you don't like the way the conversation is heading, perhaps you can explain why to her and have her block them? I'm not sure if this particular game has that capability.

This is the kind of thing where you do have to go with your gut. But, for every horror story out there about teenagers and the internet, there are plenty of kids who end up just fine. My parents really didn't watch me on the computer and we had internet from the time I was 12. I am in my mid 20s now, and was never stalked, harassed, or posted any embarrassing photos of myself. I would also recommend the cheeseburger site, or maybe http://www.stuffonmycat.com for a good alternative that will waste a LOT of time on the internet.

Kayleigh
 

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Being one of those 'way' out of the loop parents, I applaud you for making the effort to find out what's going on and what to expect..

Even as a 15yr old w/ disabilities, she is still 15 and wants/ needs to be like 'everyone else'! It's very important for them to have things to talk about with their friends and maybe this is something that she can 'join' in with the others and feel like she does fit!

I have a friend who's kids all visit this site..They are all very intelligent, highly religious, quite, not so social with other 15-21yrs, in the community because they don't drink, party, are not sexual and have found this site to be good for them.. She and her dh are both very computer wise and would NEVER allow things to get out of hand. They have actually had a party where everyone came as their avatar/ character.
 

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Ok, the stuffonmycat.com site? Absolutely hysterical. I thought I'd seen pretty much ever obsession, but this... this is too funny.

Now.. where's my camera... and where's the cat...

As for the role playing spaces being "games," yes, I'd agree they are games... but interestingly enough they make me very nervous. The whole point of a fantasy game is to become someone else, suspend disbelief, and enter into.. the fantasy. So it is a reasonable step for a gullible kid to get sucked into something when their normal "inhibitions" or "suspicions" are lulled into a false sense of security by the game...

Does it happen often? My guess is not as often as the media would like to let us think it does. After all, when it does happen and something goes wrong it goes terribly wrong and if it is your kid, inexcusably wrong. So it does get media attention... whereas the thousands who never have a problem don't get even a passing mention.

Which, of course, is why people like me, people in law enforcement, etc, say over and over... watch your kids (even, as one poster noted, the "responsible" ones). Try and remember what it was like to have a crush.. how embarrassing it was, but how all consuming it was.. and if you catch your kid doing something dangerous yes, put a stop to it, but try to be sympathetic as well.

I feel like I've got a foot in "both sides" as it were: I met my husband online, got off a plane 13 years ago without so much as exchanging a picture with the man, just words, and married him 4 days later. It seemed like a good idea at the time, even though everyone, but everyone, was horrified. I've since met a number of couples who've met online through various forums or other online connections.. it happens.

I'm just uncomfortable with it "happening" with a teenager. There otta be a cut off... age 21 and you can date online!
 

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Role playing games are like what most of us did as small children. I pretended to be Captain Kirk, for instance, or a cowgirl, or Wonder Woman, just whatever took my fancy that day. I would make choices based on whatever character I was playing would do. Even a small kid playing in a toy kitchen, pretending to be a housewife, is roleplaying. The RPGs online generally have more rules that kids' games, though. Probably this wouldn't be the best sort of thing for a mentally/emotionally disabled kid to get into, if only because she wouldn't be able to keep up, and it would be frustrating to her.

I still play RPGs, both online and in real life. Generally, they are very intellectually stimulating, the best players are very intelligent, and the games can lead to new interest in real life.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Ok, thanks everyone for all of your feedback--I think that we'll allow DD to go on to that site once or twice a week for a limited amount of time, and supervised by her PCA or me or her dad. It sound like there is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with the site, and I do want her to be able to use the internet, and also "socialize" in whatever ways she is able to. So I think that we will tentatively allow her supervised access. But please, if any of you hear anything negative about that site, please let me know, as I know how easily a mom can be duped by a kid who "knows it all"....
 
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