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 greatschools.org 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?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

H Rivers November 18, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Amy,

I love your blog and haven't ever thought to comment on any of your posts until today, when I read about Club Penguin. I had to laugh at this, because this is always a hot topic of discussion among moms where I live. And I just have to tell you what I tell them: get over it.

Club Penguin is about as safe as you can get. If Connor wants a membership, then give that boy some jobs and make him earn the money to pay for it. If Connor misbehaves, you can always cut his computer time. You've just been handed the biggest lever ever created for moms. Don't even think about turning your back on it!

Yes I know: computers kill creativity, the internet is full of bogeymen, children spend too much time on computers, etc. You'll have plenty of time to work your way through all these issues. In the meantime, enjoy your new power.

-HRivers

PS. Oh, and I should probably warn you that about 20 seconds after Connor gets on to Club Penguin that his siblings will be right there with him, wanting their own. More leverage!

Reply

Anonymous November 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Haha. I am the one spending too much time on Angry Birds! What about getting him some non-internet software? Something like MathBlasters, or the Zoombinis games? They are a lot of fun, but also teaching something at the same time. I used to reward my kids with time on those games, and I figured they were learning math and logic skills while they played.

You do have to make sure your laptop/computer matches the game requirements. And when you upgrade your computer, you may have to purchase again if they are still interested. But I thought it was totally worth it.

Reply

zena November 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I'm right there with you! I've got a second grade boy also. He goes on Club Penguin and Poptropica (also very safe). Poptropica seems to have more free content. But a few months ago, it was getting out of control, so now he's allowed 1 hour a day after homework for technology (computer, video, or my ipod touch games) and that's it. He was turning into an addict. Good luck! I've googled 'safe game websites for 7 year old boys' and a ton of info came up. Hope that helps.

Reply

Ellen Painter Dollar November 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

My kids love Webkinz, and I kind of like it too. I'll often play a game or two when I need a break from writing, under the guise of earning some KinzCash for my very spendy 4-year-old. The other site they really like is animaljam.com, which is run by National Geographic Kids and is a similar thing–you create a character, can furnish your house, etc. Playing these games is how my kids have learned to manipulate a computer, and I do not worry about safety because there are lots of safeguards built in. Webkinz allows them to earn and spend fake money, which has taught them something about budgeting and saving. And some of the games are really, really good.

One caveat: I have a child approaching middle school and have gone to seminars on Internet safety. One valuable piece of advice is to teach kids from the very beginning that they should not accept "friend" or "buddy" requests from anyone they don't know in real life. Webkinz and Animal Jam both allow users to "friend" each other. These sites never allow anyone to use their real names or identifying info, so it's not really a danger. But even though these kid-friendly sites don't pose a threat, it's good to start early with teaching kids not to connect online with people they don't know. My 4-year-old knows to click "no" anytime a friend request comes through, and usually calls me into the room to show me that he's following the rules.

He is the youngest of three, by the way, which is why he's using Webkinz when he's 4. My oldest didn't start until she was about 8.

Reply

Amy Zimmerman November 19, 2010 at 12:10 am

I felt just the same way as you did four years ago when Jerry was in 2nd grade and asked to start playing Club Penguin. It was the very first time that he had played on the computer. I have to say, I have been really happy that it has not YET taken over our lives(and Jerry is in 6th grade now).
We started when he was in 2nd grade and he was only allowed to play for 30 minutes a week, and it had to be on the weekend.
We are still one of the strictest houses around, and he can now play for 2 1/2 hours on the weekend, though there are occasional weekday exceptions (certain playdates when homework is all finished, travel days, holidays, etc etc).
He is totally respectful and responsible about it (though I do have to ask him to turn it off more than once before he hears me!!)

As for the membership, probably you will eventually want to get it. With most of these games, only when you are a member are you allowed to do the really interesting stuff.

Don't worry; you are sensible and it will all be okay!

Amy

Reply

Roxane B. Salonen November 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

Oh Amy, I really and truly wish Club Penguin was all I had to worry about when it comes to my kids and the Internet. I yearn to go back to those days!

Reply

Karen November 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm

My second grader, who is about to turn 9, has virtually no interest in the computer, despite the fact that his friends have been talking up Club Penguin for weeks.

My 6 yr old, on the other hand is very interested. But he's a video game-aholic. He pretty much stays on Nick or Nick Jr. I haven't found him surfing yet.

We limit any video game playing to an hour at a time and on weekends/days off, keep it to 2 sessions. But that's in addition to TV watching, so it's not great. I do feel a little guilty. haha

Reply

Heather November 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Here's the way I see it. Some days I'm a no-club Penguin dictator, and other days it's the only thing that saves me from insanity.

My kids know that screen time eats your brain cells and makes you stupid, eventually. So I limit it. Most days. Some days, not so much.

They actually chatter like forest birds when they're doing club Penguin (two computers in the same room–our personal one, and one from the online charter school we "attend), so it's hilarious to listen to their virtual conversations.

Like anything, it only has as much power as we the parents give it, which means time can be limited on it, and, I'm with the other moms. MAJOR leverage! I mean, I've gotten the bathrooms to get cleaned, house to be picked up, dishwasher to be emptied, laundry to be done, all because of Club Penguin.

Reply

Amy Wilson November 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm

H Rivers, I love the idea of trading Club Penguin membership for chores- so much so that I floated it by Connor yesterday. His tepid reaction showed me he might not be that interested in becoming a member, after all. But if he is he can darn well take out some garbage for the privilege.

Anonymous #1, I get the total eyeroll from my kids when I suggest an "educational" video game, but I'll give those a try…

Zena, I'll be looking at poptropica also.
Ellen, thanks for the Animal Jam suggestion– and especially the warning about accepting buddy requests. See, I didn't even know that was part of CP.

Roxane and Heather, thanks for the perspective. apparently it could be a lot worse- and soon will be! I'll enjoy the innocence of Club Penguin, in the meantime…

Reply

Buckey Mom November 22, 2010 at 1:53 am

To answer, very simply, yes, yes and no. My kids (especially my 2 boys) have been sucked into the Club Penguin realm and have never looked back. Same with Webkinz, however, my 10 year old considers that latter beneather him. Sadly, there is absolutely no turning back from all this. I love to engage in thoughtful conversation with my children, but not when it's about Puffles! Ack! It drives me bonkers. I feel your pain. Just know you are not alone.

Reply

Nicola Miller November 23, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Hello there

First I should say that I work for Disney and Club Penguin. I loved the post and think the comments really constructive, lots of kids earn their memberships or save up their pocket money to buy memberships.

I also just wanted to let you know that you can use the Parent Timer tool to set play hours and total play hours you are comfortable with your child playing Club Penguin.

Take a look at the Parents Guide here http://bit.ly/e5jPgk

Reply

kelly bauer December 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Oh man I'm in for trouble. I have a 2 yr old who is in love with our iPod touch. It started innocently as a distraction while going out to dinner, and has expanded to other areas. Shopping – the only way she'll ride in he cart is if she gets to play a game. She wants it in the car too. I feel awful about it.
On one hand she's learned a lot with it during times when I'm occupied and can't teach her. Like spelling, number, colors, animals. But then there are mindless things on there too, like my husbands old batman and superman cartoons that she loves to watch.
We can totally see the road this is headed down. Are we ruining her from being able to entertain herself and just sit and patiently wait? Hopefully we aren't.

Reply

lee howard January 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm

my name is lee and i used to play club penguin a lot. but as you guessed in your blog, the novelty does eventually wear off. give him till February and i dare say he will be back out of the screen. if not, then it wont be long. but just relax, give him some space and hell be unhooked in no time 🙂

Reply

Leave a Comment