The other day, I read a post from a parent whose children play Guild Wars. His youngest child, eight years old, has grown bored with PvE and has begun experimenting with PvP a bit. He and his wife were discussing, and unsure if they should allow him or not. Neither of them could join him in this venture, as they did not have access to some of the areas that their son had access to.
(To clarify if you are not familiar: PvE is Player vs. Environment. You fight against the game itself, and your opponents are a computer AI. PvP is Player vs. Player. It's pretty much what it sounds like - your opponents are other players.)
I was happy to see that the discussion remained friendly and helpful, but the topic touched a nerve with me because this is a balancing act that Kev and I work to maintain every time our daughter logs into the game.
I have to say first and foremost that I've always felt that mothers are hard enough on ourselves without making it worse by being hard on each other. Tearing one another down over the way we choose to parent is *never* good. It helps no one. At the risk of sounding preachy, we need to be extending our hands to pull one another up, not to point a judgemental finger. So I try hard not to judge other mothers for their choices. (That's not to say I never fall into that trap. I do my best. Sometimes I screw it up.)
I think parenting decisions in game aren't really any different than parenting decisions anywhere else: Look at the facts of a situation, consider possible outcomes, think of how comfortable you feel with what your child will encounter, consider your child's personality (How will s/he deal with these possible scenarios?), discuss it with your child if s/he's old enough, and make the call. Of course, you should probably discuss all this with whoever else is responsible for raising the child, but I would hope that is a given.
Kev and I are fairly conservative, and if anything, we lean toward the overprotective side. We feel that we *need* to know exactly what our three children are doing on the internet. What they are seeing, who they are talking to, what they are sharing with the world. Both computers are in our family room, visible to everyone, and we know what's going on with them. In the gaming world, we are equally as conservative. Only our daughter plays at the moment, but when our son begins playing, he'll have the same rules: all chats remain off: local, guild, alliance, and trade. No voice communication software. You play set to offline so people can not whisper you. You only form groups with mom and dad, no playing with others.
As time has passed and she's grown older, we've adapted and modified some of those rules to reflect that. She is allowed to join groups sometimes, playing with people that Kev and I feel comfortable with her interacting with, as long as one of us is also in the group to keep an eye out. Our gaming friends know who she is and how old she is, and the ones we feel comfortable with have always been very respectful of that in her presence.
PvP, in my eyes, is an arena that my kids won't be entering. The gaming community can be a bit...well, you know. If one of my children enters a PvP arena of any kind, within 60 seconds she will see something that I have no desire for her to see at this point in time. Within 90 seconds, she would see something that I have no desire for her to see, and it would be aimed at her. That is just how PvP works 95% of the time, particularly random PvP.
The things that Kev and I are comfortable with, and our child's personality, do not mesh well with the possible outcomes of letting her join any kind of group of random strangers to play with. That is what works for us, and what is best for our child. But kids aren't math problems. You can't say "x element" + "y element" x "z element" will equal a happy, healthy, well adjusted child every time. The wonderful and difficult thing about kids is that each one is unique and no equation works just right for all of them. My solutions may not work for you, but it doesn't make you wrong, or a bad parent.
Find your equation, work it out, have your kid equip her weapon, and have some fun.