this is the dawning of the age of Club Penguin

Last night. I’m in kitchen making dinner.

CONNOR: Mom, what’s your email?

I figured he needed it for some school form. I gave it to him. A few minutes of silence.

CONNOR: Mom, how do you check your email?

I walk out of the kitchen and find my seven-year-old typing at my laptop, surfing the net. Not something I was aware he knew how to do. 

ME: What do you need my email for?
CONNOR: (like this is the most obvious thing in the world) MOM. Club PENGUIN.

I have not looked forward to this day. Until recently, I could say with a straight face that my children spent exactly zero hours per week on the internet– or on my laptop, for that matter. But second grade has brought “technology” class once a week, and computer skills have been taught, and if you’re a computer-savvy second grader, you’re going to be racking up the puffles on Club Penguin.

Here’s what I hate about the internet. I don’t want to spend the half hour that my child is happily occupied sitting there WITH him, monitoring the other penguins for any creepy behavior. Screen time is only useful to a parent because when our kids are mesmerized by a screen, WE CAN DO SOMETHING ELSE.

But I’m not going to leave a 7-year-old to navigate the internet ALONE, I thought. What kind of mother would do that? So I sat there and watched Connor watching 50 or so penguins clumped together on an iceberg. Every five seconds or so, one of the penguins moves an inch or so. Maybe one has a hat on. That’s about it. After sixty seconds I was so bored I wanted to scream. I went back to the kitchen and used my free time to scarf some nearly-forgotten Halloween candy.

I was a little bit guilt-stricken about walking away, so I spent my own “screen time” investigating. But no matter how many variants of “dangers of Club Penguin” I typed into Google, the consensus seemed to be that Club Penguin is pretty harmless- even says so, and they would seem (by their name) to be rather pro-student and educational content. Still, it does seem like a huge waste of a half hour. Connor has readily forsworn his TV time for Club Penguin, but at least Phineas and Ferb was teaching my son inerrant comic timing. 

And I did notice that Connor was really cranky for a few minutes after I turned it off this morning before school, like he was still in the land of flightless seabirds and not ready to return. What if he loses grip on reality and gets lost in Club Penguin land forever, like Tom Hanks in the 1982 cult classic Mazes & Monsters

(I mean, I know you’ve all seen it several times, but just to remind you, in this made-for-TV movie Tom Hanks plays way too much thinly-veiled Dungeons and Dragons,  and then he starts hallucinating and his Game Master starts making him do stuff, and he hides in a sewer because he thinks maybe he killed somebody. It’s bone-chilling stuff.)

And that was over a board game. My son’s trying to resist penguins that waddle around onscreen, and change color, and have thought bubbles. It’s hopeless.  

I wish Connor didn’t find Club Penguin so fascinating at the moment, but since it does seem to reach eyeball-searing levels of boredom, I’m hoping the novelty wears off. 

This morning, Connor interrupted me in the shower to ask if he could become a “member” of Club Penguin. “It’s only $57.95 for a whole year!” he said, beaming like a used-car salesman. Hells to the no. Every mother has got to draw the line somewhere. 

Do your kids play Club Penguin, or Webkins, or other online games? Or do they maybe O.D. on “Angry Birds” on your iPhone? Do you care? Do you set limits? Is there any way to close Pandora’s box once it has been opened?