Keeping kids safe online – Disney style

These days it’s not uncommon for kids to be more computer savvy than their parents. So how can computer illiterate parents keep their children safe online?

Disney’s Club Penguin could be one option.  The good people at Disney take child safety very seriously, and have done the hard work for you, creating a hugely fun, massively popular virtual world where kids can play games, chat and make friends in an extremely safe environment.

Imagine a snow-covered island populated by colorful, animated penguins. A virtual playground where kids from all around the world interact, create, and let their imaginations run wild.  That’s Club Penguin in a nutshell.

More than 150 million penguins have been created to date, and millions of kids are playing around the world at any one time, in more than 190 countries and four different languages.  So it’s big.  And Kiwi kids are among the most prolific users of Club Penguin in the world.

When something is that big, the scope for advertising is ginormous, and everyone wants a piece of it… and this is where it gets interesting… Disney’s virtual world, as well as being educational and multi-cultural, doesn’t have any advertising.  None.  How is that even possible?  Well, the game is free to play, but subscribing members, who pay a low monthly fee, receive additional features.

Disney’s head of online Robb Beeston won’t say how exactly how many subscribe, but says the vast majority of kids play for free.

“At first I scoffed at the groundbreaking subscription-based business model. It was seven years ago. No one was doing it. I was like ‘Hows that going to work?’ But it has. And I’m pleased I’m the one left red faced,” he admits.

Refusing to be drawn on actual numbers, Beeston says the business has been profitable from month one.  But it didn’t set out to be a world beater. The site was originally set up by three dads in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, who wanted a safe online environment for their children that wasn’t wall to wall advertising.  Disney eventually bought it, and the Club Penguin mothership is still based in Kalowna, with two of the three dads still in situ.

The site also encourages children to be socially responsible, with games and play that highlights social issues and events such as Earth Day and even the Rugby World Cup.  They also get to decide where one million dollars worth of charity money is donated from Disney every year.

Other options to help keep kids safe online include:

  • Be involved. Spend time with your children, both online and in RL (real life!) to find out what they like, and teach them good habits.
  • Keep the computer in a common area and supervise internet use.
  • Create a family contract for internet use.
  • Teach your children how to stay safe online
  • Research and visit the sites your children like.
  • Use parental controls and software.

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