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Its My Life, created by executive producer Jennifer Castle 89 (pbskids.org/itsmylife).

With her PBS kids Web site, its my life, Jennifer Castle 89 has fulfilled every parents dream: shes made children want whats good for them. The site is aimed at nine- to twelve-year-oldstweens in todays marketing lingobut its the antithesis of most commercially driven Web sites. Theres no advertising, and not a Disney character or TV link in sight.

Castle proposed Its My Life in response to a call from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which offered seed money for Internet sites aimed at tweens. Hers was one of five sites funded. Kids are getting older younger these days, she says. Theyre exposed to more serious issues, but the information out there for teens isnt appropriate for a nine- or ten-year-old. CPBs goal was to create safe places on the Internet where kids could learn and be entertained in a noncommercial environment.

What no one could have predicted was how successful the site would be. When Its My Life launched last April, it quickly became the go-to Web destination for tweens. AOL linked to Its My Life stories in its Kids Only area, and the site started logging 1.3 million page views a month.

The content of Its My Life feels like a cross between an After-School Special and a teen magazine. Its organized along five channels: family, friends, school, body, and emotions. In each area, tweens can read stories, watch videos, answer polls, play games, and suggest topics or get advice from a staff of teen mentors and school counselors. The site devotes considerable space to such serious issues as depression, smoking, and eating disorders, but Castle says the driving concerns of most kids who write in are timeless: crushes (How do I get my crush to notice me?), sibling rivalry (My little sister is getting on my nerves!), and the transition to middle school (Im scared to go to sixth grade.). The most popular links, predictably, are the games.

When I tried the games myself, they seemed too tame and simplistic to hold the attention of kids used to the graphics and shoot-em-up fare of PlayStation. But I tested the site on a group of nine- to twelve-year-olds I teach at a community computer center in the Dorchester section of Boston. The girls loved Youre in Charge, a role-playing game in which they act as big sister baby-sitting a misbehaving little brother while Moms away. The boys went straight for Beat the Bully, where they outsmart, rather than pummel, their opponent by answering questions about bullying and violence. They played the games over and over, and then started navigating to other parts of the site to watch videos about celebrities most embarrassing moments or to write in for advice.

Its about understanding what kids want and giving it to them on our terms, says Castle. They come for the games and stay for the rest of it.


Michelle Walson is a freelance writer living in Somerville, Massachusetts.




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