Who’s Watching Your Kids? Safety and Surveillance in Virtual Worlds for Children

Eric M. Meyers, Lisa P. Nathan, Kristene Unsworth


Virtual playgrounds designed for children 4-12 years-old are among the fastest growing segments of the Internet. These spaces offer the promise of new social, educational, and creative opportunities for young people. These opportunities, however, are associated with new risks due to the nature of online interactions. This article presents a socio-technical investigation of two virtual worlds for children. Informed by Value Sensitive Design, the work highlights the tensions between supporting age appropriate, developmental play and constraining inappropriate behavior to ensure “safety.” This article concludes with implications for the design of virtual spaces for young people. We note in particular that the features of children’s worlds are affected by their framing, specifically by the language and practices that are encouraged by the interaction design. We challenge designers to consider how children may interpret >technical feature in practice, and the long-term implications of features intended to keep children safe.


children’s virtual worlds, values, value sensitive design, socio-technical

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4101/jvwr.v3i2.1890

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