Fun, safe web surfing for girls
As the mom of three computer-literate daughters, I believe there are many amazing educational resources available online. But I am also very aware that my kids could get caught in the web’s many inappropriate and seamy sites while surfing the Internet. About a year ago, we learned the hard way how easy it is to discover the not-so-savoury elements of the web. As a family, we decided to attempt baking a homemade version of the delicious beaver tail pastries you can buy in Old Montreal. Please heed this warning: when you Google “beaver tails,” most of the sites that come up have nothing to do with flour and sugar!
Like many other parents, my husband and I have learned to set filters on our search engine and restrict the girls’ Google searches to the laptop in the kitchen. This way, I can survey their results over their shoulders, periodically check the history tab to see where they’ve been and install a filtering software like Net Nanny. Now we can be reasonably sure that when they are looking for information on the “red fox,” … the only websites that pop up are about four-legged animals.
Beyond these safety concerns, we’ve also set out to find some of the more educational, fascinating and fun sites for girls that don’t resort to the usual blather about boys, fashion trends and nail polish. Here is a selection of some of the more clever websites we’ve come up with for girls.
Gogirlsonly.org (ages 5 to 12)
The aim of this simple, safe site is to show girls what it’s like to be a Girl Scout (or Daisy and Brownie, as the younger Scouts are called) by promoting character, kindness and responsibility. The site doesn’t require membership, and there are plenty of games, activities and stories to occupy anyone, regardless of their interest in joining Girl Scouts organization. A feature called Ask Dr. M. and Molly, allows girls to ask anonymous questions about school, family, friends or anything else. There are quizzes about African American female “sheroes” and one of the games lets girls cast and direct a music video with cartoon characters.
MissOandfriends.com (10 & up)
This hip, yet wholesome site includes the stuff you’d expect to find on the typical girl site (clothes and style) and the stuff you want your daughter to find (fun, educational games and activities to develop self-esteem). There is also material on sports, art and the business of growing up. Miss O and her friends are a diverse lot, but all have skinny, stick-figured bodies. You can read the characters’ diaries, make comments, submit stories, take part in clever games, publish a newsletter or try out a recipe. Be warned, there are some ads, and Miss O merchandise is available on the site. Girls can earn Miss O tokens, (which expire each month) to enter contests.
Gogoddess.com (8 & up)
With the premise that “there’s a goddess in every girl,” this site invites viewers to watch animated snippets about seven ethnically diverse goddess characters and then select from a girl-power list of user names and choose a symbol to identify themselves on the site. Users get to play games, chat with invited-only buddies on their list, keep a private journal, take quizzes, and enter contests. They need to register, and will require a parent’s email if under 13. The site claims it aims to build self-esteem, and users are encouraged to collect “goddessgold” points to collect online charms and symbols.
Girlsense.com (10 & up)
If you’ve got a budding fashionista on your hands, this site offers a safe introduction to the world of glamour, though it is heavily materialistic and perhaps not for everyone. “Chatterbox” sessions between girls are moderated, and the site complies with the United States Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. There is a lot of creativity here, with users invited to make up their own avatar (or cartoon image of themselves), design their own fashions, and feature them in their own tailor-made “boutiques.” Users “shop” in each other’s boutiques with g-cents (earned at each login), and leave comments for each other about their designs. There are games such as “Stylin’ Pedicure” and “Bad Hair Day.” This site offers parents opportunities to discuss a whole range of subjects about body size, body image, consumerism and materialism. There are ads on this site.
Studio2B.org (ages 13 & up)
A sister site to the Girl Scouts gogirlsonly.com. Studio2B.org is a safe, educational, fun place for smart, creative teens to hang out online and maybe even change the world a little bit. More sophisticated than its counterpart for younger girls, this site features lots of articles, games, projects and scholarship opportunities. There is almost no content about wanting to be thin or have a boyfriend. Girls don’t have to have any experience or interest in the Girl Scouts organization. The design is sophisticated, has a magazine style and the content is frequently updated and innovative, creating an interest for recurrent visits.