Parents — your child is spending a lot of time on the Internet lately. It’s obviously not Facebook or Twitter — the image on the site is a vampire, scarily enough! What’s all of this about?
If your child is showing you this page, they are enaging in something called “forum roleplaying.” Forum roleplaying is a writing game played with anywhere from one to thousands of other players on a message board (or forum). If you need more basic information, see our Forum Roleplaying Basics.
Why Forum Roleplay Is Good
Roleplaying on an Internet forum promotes:
- Creativity, better writing skills and reading comprehension improvement. So many children want to spend their time with eyes glazed at the television or YouTube videos. If your child is interested in forum roleplaying, they want to write and be creative. Why stifle that?
- Community and worldly experience. It can be tough to keep consistent friends for children who are always moving around — the same goes for children who live in a rural area, far away from their real-world friends. An online community can help establish consistent friendships in the lives of these children. Additionally, the people met in an RPG are often from all over the world — which is great for introducing children to differing perspectives.
- Strong familiarity with the Internet and technology. It takes a little more technological prowess to roleplay on a forum than it does to click on a Facebook game avatar. In getting to know the Internet, your child will be well-prepared for more advanced pursuits on the web. The Internet is unavoidable in today’s world. Familiarity with it from youth can help your child get ahead.
Ideal Age for Forum Roleplay
Most forum roleplaying games are intended for children thirteen and up. It is very difficult to find an RPG intended for children younger than 13. This is because:
- Forum roleplaying does require maturity, and very young children may not be ready for the interactive aspect of an intense community-based activity.
- If you and your child live in the United States, or if the roleplaying game your child hopes to join is hosted in the United States, the RPG must comply with COPPA. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, prohibits children from 13 from registering on websites without parental permission. Most free RPGs don’t want to deal with the paperwork, hassle, and other complications of being COPPA-compliant and allowing registration of children under 13. It’s much easier to simply disallow children under 13.
Roleplay Alternatives for Very Young Children
If your child is less than thirteen years old or you are not comfortable with them engaging in forum roleplay, you can encourage them to write their own short stories, novels, or other brief pieces of writing. You can write a response to them, and they can write a response to you, and so forth — this allows the child to engage in pseudo-roleplay while still remaining absolutely safe!
Be aware that there are erotic, adult, and otherwise child-inappropriate roleplaying games on the Internet. Most of these games will be very well-labeled and clear in their intent. These games also do not accept anyone under 18 years old under any circumstances. Above all, make sure you carefully investigate your child’s chosen roleplaying game. If the material posted is too adult, you may wish to bar your child from viewing the game altogether.
Contacting an RPG
You may sometimes need to contact the administrator of an RPG game. This may be because you have a question about your child joining the RPG game, the material of the RPG game, or — you just want to see if the people running the show are nice people! In some cases, too, you may wish to let the RPG administrators know you aren’t okay with your child joining the game. Alternatively, you may wish to let the RPG administrators you are okay with your child joining the game — and reach out to them to let them know they can contact you if any issues arise with your child.
- Get the game’s URL (web site, or web address) from your child.
- Get your child’s account name (while you have it, double check and make sure that their forum profile is free of personally identifiable information).
- Look for a “Contact” page. Sometimes this is linked from the uppermost parts of the forum (the header). Sometimes it is linked at the very bottom of the forum (the footer). Look for an e-mail address you can contact. In rare cases, it may be very difficult for you to find a private means of contact. You can also always register an account on the forum and ask the administrators to contact you privately (but keep your child’s “reputation” in mind).
- Write a message to the administrators of the game, including:
- Your child’s account name
- Your name — if you are not comfortable with giving away your real name an abbreviated or fake name is fine
- Your relationship to the child — parent, guardian, older sibling, etc.
- Your message, question, etc.
- Remember that some games do not wish to host children at all. Your contacting the RPG administration, even to say you are okay with the child playing the game, may result in your child being unwelcome from the game. This is precisely because some games are very large and cannot devote the resources to closely monitoring individual players. You may wish to avoid contacting the administration if you are comfortable monitoring your child yourself.
- Do not post your message/request in public. This could be highly embarrassing for your child. Remember, if they have already joined an RPG game — they probably have a few friends already! Posting in the public areas of the RPG is akin to walking into the crowded school lunchroom and yelling, “BILLY, YOU FORGOT YOUR LEAKPROOF UNDERWEAR! You need them in case you have an accident!” This is not a good thing to do if you value and respect your child’s autonomy.
For Children: Remaining Safe in Forum Roleplay
Forum roleplay is as safe as any other place on the Internet. In other words, forum roleplay is not an inherently dangerous activity. There are bad people like anywhere else on the Internet, though, so your best bet is making sure you know basic Internet safety and you adhere to that safety when forum roleplaying.
Children should keep the following in mind:
- … do not give your age away at all, ever, for any reason.
- … do not give away real names, addresses, partial addresses, phone numbers, or other sensitive personal information.
- … do not reveal personal details such as where you attend school, where you live, or any other information that can be used to identify you.
- … make up an alias to use on the Internet, whether that’s a fake real name or simply an Internet nickname.
- … remember that what you post on the Internet is permanent and public. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t say to your parents, teachers, friends, and family.
There are many resources for remaining safe on the Internet. Common Sense Media provides a great starter guide.
Parents, please remember that no amount of Internet guides can replace your guidance, words of wisdom, and sometimes necessary security measures.