Our school’s Tuesday afterschool class had an offering that was basically sewing things for a stuffed animal called a Webkinz. If you took the class, you got a stuffed animal . . . with an activation code for an online experience. In a moment of parental inattention I now regret, I said “yes.” I had absolutely no idea how aggressively an online site could market to kids. Now I know . . . and I realize that there is a whole brave new world of predatory online practices.
Of course once you get on there are a bazillion other stuffed animals you can buy and things you can sign up for, and there is a lot of advertising. That part’s pretty easy to say no to. One part that’s not going to be so easy is when a year’s up and the activation code expires . . . from what I’ve heard, you can only get a new one by purchasing another stuffed animal. But that’s still not the hard part.
The hard part is that the site has mechanisms to keep kids coming back for more . . . and more . . . all of them having to do with Kinzcash. You can use Kinzcash to buy clothes and food and furniture and toys and rooms for your Webkinz, and for a host of other things as well, like a movie studio where you can make your own animations. How do you get it? By playing games, or by doing gambling-type activities, or by logging on every single day of the week. I can’t even begin to say how many bad messages this is sending our kids.
What are we going to do? Limit its use? Quit cold turkey? Turn off the modem and pretend our Internet is broken? Let it expire? Let them use it but pair it with information about how they are being manipulated? Offer the kids a hundred dollars to quit it? Look for an online game without the gambling/cash component?
Anyhow, as parents we’ve learned our lesson. If kids want to do something online, vet it beforehand. It’s scarier out there than we thought.