Earning coins through mini-games to afford glammed-up igloos, chatting to other kids on opposite sides of the world and multicoloured puffles to match your penguin, these were the days of truly blissful ignorance and imagination. The friends made online and internet-based play were a compensating haven for those of us growing up in otherwise child-free homes and housing estates.
I’ll come clean from the start: I was always more of a Moshi Monsters kid. I gave my purple Luvli the very best of everything, starting from the eye-catching wall art to the dedicated Moshling garden. The general experience of kid-oriented and friendly spaces online are a core memory for many of us who grew up in the 2000s.
At first, I didn’t consider it to be any significant influence on how I am now. After all, “the internet isn’t real life”, or so I’ve been told my whole life by adults. However, I’ve recently observed an interesting change of dynamics in children on the internet today in comparison to ten years ago.
With the rise of TikTok and the aging of other now-established social media such as Instagram, YouTube, and even Snapchat, children saturate online spaces more visibly now than ever before. I’ve noticed a difference in the attitudes of these kids first-hand, and they sometimes seem more serious, less carefree – the way ten-year-olds typically should be in theory.
Social media made with adults in mind are not safe spaces for children to interact with other children. Instead, they are exposed to the unbridled complexities and politics of adult-targeted media. Often blanketed with a façade of glamour that is associated with maturity, the appeal for kids who look up to influential figures is apparent.
Now, I do not advocate for censorship or sanitisation of social media in most cases, nor do I believe it to be an effective solution. However, having dedicated spaces where kids can simply be kids is important for many reasons: two of which are internet literacy and cyber safety. Sites made with children in mind are generally well-monitored, advocate for safe internet practices, and give parents access to account information. When a guardian is involved in their child’s internet activity they can then appropriately advise them on safe internet practices such as keeping personal details strictly private and to not blindly trust strangers on the web.
The most current and popular example of such a space is Roblox – my younger siblings and their friends can play and talk about common gaming interests, while learning to use the internet wisely under adult supervision. It also has opportunities to learn code and play games with educational aspects.
Caution must be very seriously undertaken of course, and no place on the internet is entirely safe to be present on, but then there lies the point of internet literacy. Without experience under guidance, how else does one learn? Now that Neopets, Animal Jam and other child-friendly spaces are declining in popularity, what will become of the internet kids of the future?