Sunday, July 22nd, 2007 at 6:07 pm in Kids & Tweens.
The cute animated animals initially made me balk. So did my stepdaughter’s growing attachment to Webkinz, a Web site for kids and tweens that is tied to actual stuffed animals with secret codes. It’s these codes that allow the animals to “come alive” online.
Ann Pleshette Murphy provided tips in this weekend USA Weekend magazine for weaning kids off Webkinz. On the one hand, I understand the need to curb obsession and limit Internet time. But this site seems pretty tame in a world where kids have access to MySpace, You Tube and often extremely mature video games.
Here’s how Webkinz works: children buy a stuffed animal (usually ranging from $10 to $14) that has a secret code; when they enter the code on the Web site, they adopt an online version of their pet, which comes with a house and KinzCash to decorate the house and buy accessories; they earn more KinzCash by playing games on the Web site.
A lot of Web sites designed for kids make me nervous. What I like about this one is the safety features and types of games. Children can chat online using only already-constructed phrases. If parents “accept” an e-mail consent for access, kids also can use the KinzChat Plus area, where they type their own messages but cannot use numbers, proper names, places or inappropriate language. It’s pretty stringent. I attempted to use the words “street” and “call” and got a no-no red highlight.
The games are very kid-appropriate, too. Nothing more violent than popping balloons. Some even teach things like spelling, writing, problem-solving, and a personal favorite, answering trivia questions. Children are taught to be responsible for caring and feeding their pet. And they learn about saving money with the KinzCash, to buy items, and in real life, to buy the stuffed animals.
That’s not to say limits aren’t important. As with television and video games, unmonitored children can become obsessed with their pets and the games. In our home, we set a time limit of two hours a day. My stepdaughter has to decide whether to use those two hours all at once or divide them over the course of the day. She’s learning a lot about time management. We also established a no-Webkinz-until rule: she can’t play until she’s eaten breakfast, taken care of her personal hygiene and finished her chores. And for every minute she spends on the computer, she has to match it in time spent reading. (Some days, she gets so absorbed in a book, she forgets to stop at her allotted time.) Yes, it requires diligence on our part, as her parents, to make sure she follows the rules. But it’s worth it knowing she’s in a place that is truly designed for kids.
– Ann Tatko-Peterson