Virtual worlds allow players to wander, explore, interact, and play in digital landscapes. Some virtual worlds are very open-ended while others require specific types of interactions. Virtual worlds created for young children are carefully controlled and managed -- but worlds for teens are less carefully supervised, include more adult themes, and may allow a fair amount of social interaction. They tend to capitalize on the social aspects of virtual worlds and allow for more freedom of expression... in avatars (your online persona).
It's important to note that teen sites allow more inappropriate language and behavior, although the best sites are still somewhat moderated and definitely filtered. Expect more outside advertising and the availability of premium goods and services that cost real-world money.
If you see that your child is getting very involved with a virtual world, it's a very good idea for you, too, to create an avatar and explore online. Of course, it's wonderful to explore with your child, but even if you're on your own, you'll be able to get a sense of what your child is experiencing.
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Teen Second Life is a PG-rated version of the adult Second Life website. Open only to teens 13-17; it is designed to provide an appropriate environment for teens to interact. There are staff people present while the site is open to help keep an eye on things. The 3-D virtual world is free to join, although a premium membership is available that allows you to purchase land. Much like the adult version of the site, Teen Second Life has some powerful tools that allow you to design your own objects... in the virtual world.
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Runescape is an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), but it doubles as a favorite hangout for a lot of teens. Choose a character, study up on building weapons, fighting and earning gold, and then set out on an adventure. Runescape is free to play, but a premium membership is available. Premium members are advertising free and have access to more games, land, and features.
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Aimed at teens, Habbo Hotel has a diverse, global user base. The premise is that you can build your own room in a virtual hotel. Graphics are chunky and pixelated but have an old-school computing appeal. Habbo offers premium shopping (i.e., real money) for special items. It has some notoriety for a landmark court case involving the arrest of a Dutch teen for the theft of virtual furniture that costs real money.
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There is open to everyone over the age of 13 and language and behavior is expected to be appropriate for even the youngest members. There are a number of fun games and activities that appeal to a wide range of people. Basic membership is free, and a premium membership is available for a one-time fee. As in Second Life, There members can create clothing and objects for their own use or to sell in-game. The currency is "Therebucks" which can be earned in-game or purchased with real-world... money.