What your eleven-year-old is doing online

The other day one of the neighbor kids asked to use my netbook to check his social networking website.  No problem.   But he forgot to sign out, and mwahahaha, also forgot the saying about never trusting anyone over 30. So here is what the kids in the neighborhood do online.

This particular website, and I’m going to keep everything anonymous here, offers “gifts”, “trophies”, and “points”. These kids have point totals next to their names. They also get to dress themselves and decorate a “room”, which can also be an outdoor scene.  Female avatars also get a choice of three different chest sizes; the default is the smallest size.

Then they get a wall where their friends can leave messages.  Here are some typical messages, with identifying information blocked out.

The girls seem to like names that identify them as attractive or “hot”; also that incorporate the word “pie”. The boys mostly use their real names, some with numbers. They know each other in real life. They’re supposed to be at least thirteen to use the site, but just last week I was at a birthday party where one of them turned eleven.

The obvious thing about these particular comments is how the little dears seem to know there is a nanny filter and how to get around it. They type “byches” and “my nygga”, but do they know what those words mean?  I hear these same kids playing in the yard when I’m gardening and they use the n-word and the b-word but rarely.  Most of the time they’re worried about who’s “gay” and whose turn it is to be “gay”, much in the same way we talked about  “girl fleas”, “boy fleas”, and who has “fleas” (that you could catch by touching someone in a sort of tag game) at that age, although unlike the boys of my childhood, these boys seem to be concerned about whether girls like them, also they do play with girls). But the “byches” in this case seem to be male (and yes, there are real gangs in the neighborhood), and the child being addressed as “bro” and “my nygga” is not African-American. I don’t know if what I’m seeing is bigotry and homophobia or if I’m catching a glimpse of a Brave New World of future language change.

And of course I couldn’t resist the chance to play with the avatars and create a Mini Me.  Here is Nijma, aged 13.

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