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A Guide to Your Kids' Online Hangouts

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Whose Avatar Is That?

While there may be limitations to the icons kids can create to represent themselves -- for example, avatars in Club Penguin must be penguins -- kids can often pick the gender, clothing, hairstyle, or body type. "Someone who invents a sexy, sultry alternate identity may not realize the impression she is giving to the outside world," says Barbara Melton, a licensed professional counselor in Charleston, South Carolina, and coauthor of What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online? (Broadway Books). And since tweens and teens use avatars to portray how they want to look or be seen by others, parents should take note. If your child devises a completely different identity, ask her why she designed her avatar that way, then suggest she create a second with characteristics more like her own. Kids should divide their time between the "fantasy" avatar and the more realistic version.

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