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A Guide to Your Kids' Online Hangouts

Wondering where your kid has been lately? Check with his virtual persona -- his avatar. Most likely you'll find him at one of these four popular playgrounds.
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For Tweens

Virtual world: clubpenguin.com

Kids create penguin avatars, decorate igloos, and play games with millions of other visitors. They can start a blog, perform in online plays, or contribute member news to the weekly newspaper, the Club Penguin Times.

Emotional draw: Kids get to test their parental skills by nurturing, protecting, and caring for their penguins. Feed a penguin too much and it gets a bellyache; feed it too little and it cries.

Cool factor: The Web site rewards creativity, inviting kids to submit anonymous fan art, which is featured in the Club Penguin Times or in the community section. Guidebooks to the virtual world make it easy for even young kids to design a penguin paradise.

Real-life rules: Run by Disney, Club Penguin is free to visit. Additional membership privileges, like the option to decorate igloos, are available for $5.95 a month. Instant-messaging chats come in two forms: Standard Safe Chat, which allows players to type messages that are filtered by a team of live moderators, and Ultimate Safe Chat, which limits conversations to a drop-down menu of preapproved words and phrases. An extensive shop sells T-shirts, toys, and baseball caps.

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