Teens in Second Life

The Lindens recently announced a new age verification system they’re testing to address the problem of underage users creating accounts to access Second Life. I think this brings up an issue that has long since been overlooked. Teens should be allowed to access the “real” Second Life. And here’s my reasoning.

As we all know, the media has been saturated with stories about virtual worlds and Second Life. Stories about business, education, and various virtual experiences peak readers’/viewers’/listeners’ curiosity and have let to the creation and registration of millions of accounts. Including those of many who are “underage”. Currently, if a Second Life resident is found to be under 18, LL suspends the account until proof of age is submitted.

My first response to this is “Can you blame them?” If I was under 18 and came across all this buzz about virtual worlds, you bet I’d check that box stating I’m of age in order to see what all the hoopla is about.

“But there is a lot of adult content that these children should not be exposed to,” you might argue. Ah, but the islands and parcels that this material is on is labeled “Mature”. So, why don’t we allow underage players to only access land that is designated “PG”? This will allow students to access all of the educational material that’s currently available on the main grid, plus it will allow K-12 educators (who have previously been limited to only using the teen grid) to collaborate with higher ed users in Second Life. Plus, undergrad virtual recruiting has all kinds of possibilities!

C’mon people — let’s not shut the door to our learners. Let’s instead open it and use the management tools already in existence to allow our teens to experience this virtual extravaganza!

3 thoughts on “Teens in Second Life

  1. I think the separation of teen and adult in SL has to do more with online predators than content exposure. MySpace, while it was gotten much better, has been a medium for the beginning of many improper relationships. You and I don’t explore the seedier side of SL, but I’ve heard that anything can go anywhere, even in places not marked secure. I’ve noticed that you can’t really make your avatar look like a kid, so matter how hard you try.

    But, if you take down that barrier, then what if someone that is underage creates a realistic nude avatar of themselves and walks around SL? Every person that runs into that avatar is guilty of transmitting child pornography by current laws.

    Anytime you have social websites, you have to take measures to protect children from predators, and I think this is measure that SL took. I know the big deal with MySpace was the interactions with predators more than the content of profiles. I wish there was a way to have teens on SL with everyone else, but just can’t think of a good system for that.

  2. I understand what you’re saying, Matt, but I still don’t think that the fix for this is to completely shut them out. Managing access will alleviate many problems with kids accessing the seedier side of SL. Regarding naked child-like avatars, I don’t really have an answer for that — maybe LL can require clothing… whatever.

    It’s discouraging for me as an educator to talk with others in education, tell them about all these great places in-world (recreations of Morocco and ancient Rome, synagogues, cathedrals, International space museums, simulations, etc.), then I find out that the person I’m talking to is a K-12 educator who’s getting very excited about this and can’t wait to show their students. Now, I have to break the news to them that ‘Oh, these are actually only available to people 18 and up. But you can access the much smaller area called the teen grid that’s been built by kids and a handful of educators that have gone through a background check.’

    To me, this is equivalent to blocking anyone under 18 from seeing any .com website and only being allowed to see .edu sites. Sure, there’s some inappropriate materials out there (in SL’s case, much of which is labeled ‘Mature’), but blocking their access does more harm than good.

  3. Well, since you bring up K-12, I think we both know (as former K-12 teachers), that there are plenty of laws in real life that restricted what we could and couldn’t do as teachers. It just comes with the territory as a K-12 teacher. Even when you follow the rules, like the art teacher in Plano, TX recently, you can still find yourself in trouble if the right people complain about it. Most of the laws in real life are much more restrictive than what the Lindens. And most parents are pushing for the real life laws to be even more restrictive. And I can’t say I disagree with them.

    I also read a recent article about German police cracking down on virtual child porn in Second Life. When they start bringing up ‘transfer into real life,’ virtual rape, etc…. I don’t know if I’m convinced that the restrictions are such a bad thing. As much as I hate restrictions, I also see this point:

    ‘If measures to prevent virtual child pornography can protect even one child from being harmed by a pedophile who has made the jump from the virtual to the real,’ wrote one online reader of the Deutsche Zeitung newspaper, ‘then I would welcome them in any form.’

    We know for a fact that the jump does happen in chat rooms and MySpace, so it probably has already happened in Second Life. I’m not usually a ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’ kind of guy, but I’ve also had friends that were the victim of this type of thing. It’s so devastating in their life, that I think I would tend to fall on the Linden’s side in this one. The current solution is by far not perfect, but it’s best solution out there for now.

    But, I also know that it’s not the content side of things that allows people to make the jump to reality, but the relationships. I still think this is not about the children seeing the adult content, but in the fact that the improper relationships can be formed. All it is going to take is one national level news story about a teen that goes missing, and then they find the body, and then they find the killer, and then they find that the killer met the teen in Second Life – and that will be the end of SL. It’s not too far fetched to think that the government could legally go in and shut down Second Life for something like this. And they would probably have a lot of support for it. At least more than they have for the War in Iraq….

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