I was quite surprised to discover a room full of teenage boys revisiting characters I thought had been discarded with other elements of their childhood (chicken fingers, Hanson…) –but make no mistake these little pocket monsters are back. I guess it makes sense that “retro” for this internet, of the nano-second moment generation can already mean toys they played with just a few years ago.
A new adventure website for kids, jacabeecode.com has free registration until May 31st. We haven’t tried it yet, but would love feedback from your kids. The site takes players through historically-themed adventures. If your kids want their own personalized storybook–there is a fee. I’m intrigued by the historical aspect. Once your child signs in and creates her own avatar, the journey begins. Let us know…
Last holiday season all of my tween testers kept asking for Webkinz. It was clearly the “hot” toy/play environment of the season. Even parents sent us emails saying that they too loved the site and used it as a way to play on-line with their kids. Webkinz brillantly blended all of the trends of the last decade: virtual pets meets Beanie Babies meets on-line shopping. What’s not to love?
Last week I was puzzled that the spin on the site was that it taught kids how to be “responsible” (the site was featured on iVillage In the Loop). True, you do have to feed your webkinz — I don’t believe it rises to the level of social responsibility. It’s a fun site, and as one of our kid testers explained “there’s always something new to buy!”
With the hottest children’s site on the web, it was predictable that the folks at Ganz would look for ways to build on their amazing success (especially when success in the toy industry is usually a fleeting phenomena). So the site, that had been ad-free, now posted ads and tie-ins to the Bee movie (where wasn’t the Bee movie tied in?)….Here’s where the company angered their base. Parents expected the site to be ad-free.
Of course these sites are really not ad-free. The sites are a perpetual ad for their own product but at least parents know what they have bought into. It’s another issue to have kids bombarded with ads for other products that parents may not even be aware of. When looking at these sites this summer, we were particularly taken aback by the Barbie site where kids can only access certain hair and nail designs by paying an additional fee.
Back in the 80s, my mother wrote a book called Buy Me! Buy Me!–which looked at the never ending buy ins of such hot properties of the time (can you say ninja turtle?)….Webkinz and it’s followers have just found a way to move the buy me, buy me possibilities into our family rooms–just an easy click of the mouse and you’re in.
Our advice remains the same– look at the sites with your kids from time to time. See what’s being posted. Webkinz promotes “academic questions” as a way to make more money on the site. Our testers tell us that they’ll do the questions sometimes, but they are really much more interested in the on-line shopping and the more arcade-like games offered on the site.
Responding to the concerns of worried parents over the lurking dangers to kids on the internet, toy makers are trying to make computer experiences safer. Fisher-Price and Hasbro have created “gated environments” where parents pay for the platform or key to safe sites that also block your child from surfing the web. Taking it a step further, LeapFrog has created a platform that stimulates a computer experience on your television (not a bad idea if you’re worried about your child’s sippy cup near your expensive equipment!). Of course it should be noted that screen time is not as important for your preschooler as active physical play and creative activities that develop fine motor skills as well as imaginative play of their own making. Interacting with a screen is no substitute for interacting with real objects and real people.