Cyber Parenting: Online Communities Target Long-Distance Parents and Children
by Rick Ortiz, editor of DadsDivorce.com
Anyone born after the invention of television has heard the admonitions that come with staring too long and intently at a television or computer screen. But with the passing of the generation who remember life before video it seems as though a kind of evolution and unconditional embrace of the television or computer screen as a builder of community, friendships, buddy-hood, and even a certain kind of parenting is becoming firmly entrenched in our society.
These days, peering into a computer screen can actually strengthen bonds between parents and children. Though almost certainly no one would suggest a relationship through a computer screen can be a substitute for a real parent-child relationship where embraces and all the other nuances of actually occupying a physical (rather than “cyber”) space aid in the formation of strong individuals.
The occasional separation of parents from children is something that people have endured throughout history, but never has the gulf of physical distance been crossed as convincingly and meaningfully as it can be crossed now through the use of computers and the internet.
Following in the tradition of letters, telegraphs, and the telephone, the internet has improved to the point where a separated parent and child can communicate very actively if both are properly equipped.
All you need is an average computer, a high-speed internet connection and you’re ready to roll. Several online companies are now creating virtual meeting places especially geared for families separated as a result of child custody issues, military service, jobs that require travel or anything else that results in long-distance relationships. According to a press-release from Doug Little, V.P. of marketing for etendi BRIDGE (www.etendi.com), “We designed etendi BRIDGE to specifically address the needs and concerns of distance parents and families. Before entendi BRIDGE, a mix of different web-based tools were needed to provide all the features and capabilities parents and kids want. Using these tools together was complex, awkward, time consuming, and required considerable tech savvy.”
Watch any child in the presence of a computer and you will see that they are usually much less inhibited to jump aboard and begin interacting with the machine than even their parents. In fact, computers are a natural draw for children with their unlimited ability to feed their naturally hungry minds.
For a parent who is forced to be at a distance from their child an interactive experience on the computer is a logical choice to provide real-time interaction.
Tapping into the hugely popular online gaming industry, Wizard101 (www.wizard101.com) lures both children and parents into a world of wizards, dragons and interesting plot lines where they can play, compete and ultimately bond.
Rebekah Nicodemus of KingsIsle, the company that recently launched Wizard101, a virtual world geared at children and tweens describes the audience who are drawn to their online offering. “One of the great things we’ve been seeing since the launch of Wizard101 is how families who can’t always be together physically are using it to spend quality time with each other.”
Wizard101 is an inviting world that resembles a storybook where kids and their parents can engage in a card-based combat system (similar to Pokemon) and a rich storyline that introduces players to the fantastic world of Ravenwood School of the Magical Arts. Perhaps metaphorically the object of Wizard101 is for the players to save a fractured world through reasoning and the development of their online skills.
The fast-paced and engaging graphics and action of the games provided by each of these options are sure to provide the element of indirect interaction that make good-natured competition and working through problems side-by-side a bonding experience.
For the times when the real business of child-rearing must be attended to, etendi BRIDGE also offers the option to work on homework together, create and leave text or video “Thinking of You” messages and updates, build shared web spaces, photo albums and explore other common interests.
The separation of parents from their children has always existed as a problem to be overcome, and now online gaming appears to offer the most effective alternative to actually being there. Perhaps a fitting metaphor can be found in the object of Wizard101 where the ultimate goal of the players is to save a fractured world through reasoning and the development of their online skills.
Rick Ortiz is the editor of DadsDivorce.com an online resource for men and