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Fair Play?

AddictingGames.com. BarbieGirls.com. Club Penguin. EverythingGirl.com. Lego.com. NickJr.com.

These are just a sampling of children's Web sites 1.0. They are geared to our kids' generation -- a group that is growing up with computers from Day 1. And these sites and others have raised some eyebrows at Consumer Reports' WebWatch. In a recently released study called "Like Taking Candy from a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments" WebWatch both advises parents and raises questions about the virtual worlds kids see.

"The games we observed vary widely in quality, in educational value, and in their developmental match with children's abilities. Such mismatches often result in frequent cries for help. Of the sites we observed, PBS KIDS and Sesame Street contained content of the highest educational value. NOGGIN's games were some of the best designed. Club Penguin and Webkinz delivered the best overall experience," the study says.

But playing these games isn't all fun and games for kids or parents. Using a small sample size of 10 families who videotaped game usage diaries, WebWatch saw:

* Children downloading programs that altered settings on their parents' computers.

* A six-year-old typing his mother's e-mail address into an entry window to win a toy.

* Many Web sites geared to making kids -- ahem, parents -- pay to play the good stuff.

* Sites that "frequently tantalize children, presenting enticing options and even threats that their online creations will become inaccessible unless a purchase is made."

* Free trials that weren't really free -- at least not for long.

* Highly commercialized Web sites across the board. "Even nonprofit content providers such as PBS KIDS and Sesame Workshop display logos of sponsors or underwriters, though not always in areas of the site designated for children," the report notes.

What's your experience been with Web sites targeted to kids? Are you around when your kids are playing them? Do the ads and commercialization bother them and you? Has your child inadvertently downloaded something you didn't expect -- or want -- on your computer?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 8, 2008; 8:15 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers
Previous: Your Parents Are Watching ... and Watching ... and Watching | Next: Lesson From My Mother

Comments


I'm interested to see how people approach this one.

I didn't think I would let my son on the internet. But ha, ha, he's 2.5 and we've watched YouTube a lot (they have great scenes of dolphins, etc.) So much for all those ideals.

The only website I've let my son use other than that is Starfall.com which I find a bit insipid but he loves it - go figure.

However, we only use it on "days my son is home recovering from being sick and mummy has to get something done for work." Or, once, "at 4:30 am when the birds woke him up and mummy needed to just sit." :-)

I guess I'm coming to the conclusion that both his parents use the Internet all the time, and probably so will he. But I don't like most of what I see, so I hope to be really selective. Until that next ear infection hits.

Posted by: Shandra | May 8, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Have we not discussed our kids web usage enough? I think I will sit this one out...

Posted by: Momof5 | May 8, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

My experience with websites targeted to kids is that my husband and I got far more hooked on Webkinz than my girl did -- Goobers Lab, in particular (highly addictive game). I am annoyed that you have to either pay a fee or buy another toy to continue more than one year; we'll probably let it lapse when this year runs out, because we enjoy it more than she does, and my husband has now moved on to Turret Wars.

My husband is way more the techie than I am, so I let him deal with this. The weird thing is that I've always viewed putzing on the web and computer games as a time-waster like cartoons, and so should be similarly limited. But there my husband was, out buying a baby computer game for our boy before he even turned two, so he could begin to "learn" how to use the computer.

Hasn't been an issue so far, as boy is still just 2 1/2, and girl doesn't seem to get hooked the way we have. But as the kids get older, we are clearly going to have to find a happy medium -- it is a different world, so I do want my kids growing up knowing their way around a computer and the internet, but I still think a lot of the crap you find out there is total time-waster crap that needs to be managed as such.

Posted by: Laura | May 8, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

When my older kid was between the ages of 3 and 7, the computer was a great learning resource. I bought educational games that he played and they helped him read better and develop advanced math skills at an early age.

Now at 14, I wish the computer would go away because he is addicted, and it affects his grades.

He gets his other parent (my ex) to pay for some websites. Another story.

At 14, it is not easy to curb computer usage because they need it to access their home work and get important email messages from the various legitimate groups that they are involved with.

Moreover, you can't stand over a 14 year old's shoulders so I'm hoping that this difficult phase will go away soon. Mainwhile, I keep preaching my responsibility sermons and pray they will sink in.

Posted by: Don't like Computers | May 8, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Didja ever notice that people who "don't like computers" tend to accuse those who do of being "addicted"? Hmmmmm.

Laura, the internet IS a timesuck, I have to admit. I read this blog and all comments, as well as On Balance every day. I am a non-parent who works at home. The people and subjects here on both blogs are fascinating, so I keep reading even though none if it even faintly applies to my life.

Oh, and then there's the Achenblog...........

:-)

Posted by: Hmmmmm.. | May 8, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Why can't you check on your 14 year old's activities on-line? I don't mean every second, but an occasional check-in is not Ok?

Posted by: anon | May 8, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The problem I have is the time the child spends on the computer rather than doing homework. The child knows that Mom is checking out internet sites visited. No "My Space" account allowed or any other website account of that sort. Period.

Posted by: Don't like Computers | May 8, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's really any different than it has been before- just perhaps now you have to just "click" for something to be in your home rather than going to a store.

I think it's great that kids will get access to safe sex advice and facts at the exact same place they get their pictures and stories.

Posted by: Liz D | May 8, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

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