Do you believe babies and children should be tossed into the internet ether for babysitting, entertaining and socializing?


Or should we return to core family values where kids and babes are
socially protected, entertained by toys they can actually holds in
their hands and their babysitters are people and not web games?
The New York Times
published an astonishing article indicating the new business movement
for “eyes and minds” on the internet is for those belonging to the
kindergarten set.  The “Tweeners” and the teenagers are old news
because their honeypots are dry and overexposed.

Second Life and other virtual worlds for grown-ups have
enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short
of breathless expectations. The children’s versions are proving much
more popular, to the dismay of some parents and child advocacy groups.
Now the likes of the Walt Disney Company,
which owns Club Penguin, are working at warp speed to pump out sister
sites.
“Get ready for total inundation,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst
at the research firm eMarketer, who estimates that 20 million children
will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today.

The babes and kiddies, however — those who are barely in school — are
ripe for the ripping off and big companies like Disney are reaping the
rewards from the direct disinterest of parents in the well-being of
their kids online.

Worlds like Webkinz, where children care for stuffed
animals that come to life, have become some of the Web’s
fastest-growing businesses. More than six million unique visitors
logged on to Webkinz in November, up 342 percent from November 2006,
according to ComScore Media Metrix, a research firm…

By contrast, Disney last month introduced a “Pirates of the
Caribbean” world aimed at children 10 and older, and it has worlds on
the way for “Cars” and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already
home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of
worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties.

Add to the mix similar offerings from toy manufacturers like Lego and Mattel.
Upstart technology companies, particularly from overseas, are also
elbowing for market share. Mind Candy, a British company that last
month introduced a world called Moshi Monsters, and Stardoll, a site
from Sweden, sign up thousands of members in the United States each day.

Does this monetization of childhood bother you?
Is this coveting business interest in pre-school and kindergarten kids
a new phenomenon or has it always been in effect over the last century?

“Parents know they can trust our brand to protect kids,”
said Steve Youngwood, executive vice president for digital media at
Nickelodeon. “We see that as a competitive advantage.”

Should we ever trust big business to entertain our children and care
for their minds or must we pull the plug on the internet and shelter
young minds from the indoctrination of web morals and ether values?
How far away are we from The Internet Manger where newborn babies are
cast into cradles made of e-paper and surrounded in a womb-like swirl
of RSS Feeds, cartoon bunnies begging for pennies, and encyclopedic
games pretending to be tools of learning?

How soon will The Tooth Fairy begin charging for visits instead of
paying for the honor?

Will we be implanting “Club Penguin: The Womb Version” to pull spare
e-change from developing fetuses before they can catch their first
breath?
How will we ever win back our kids to face the reality of the mortality
of flesh and the morality of bone?

24 Comments

  1. Karvain —
    So it is a might bit better to let the internet raise a child than a bad parent? So are these parents aware of their immorality and give in to the Disney wants? Or do they think they’re being good parents by giving unbridled access to Nickelodeon’s latest for-pay enterprise?

  2. Case of knowing but not wanting to know yauh know — they feel they’re failing their children so they put a bright Disney shine on by sending them to princess land and bambi forest.

  3. Hmm. Some people might say that welfare cheese and needles “IRL” are better than any online paradise. Would it be better to have your physical body attached to machines, keeping you alive while your mind wanders around a virtual paradise – or for your physical body to be in poverty in the real world without access to the wondrous online world?

  4. I think it is a horrible concept – children are not commodities to be farmed out.
    People should not become parents unless they are prepared to be responsible for them, be with them, look after and nurture them.

  5. Gordon —
    Yes, I can see how escapism from the reality of a rotten life your parents provide for you is important to children. I much prefer daydreaming and parks and museums as the method of that escape than online games and buying things as a penguin.
    It’s all about choice and being an active parent is a hard thing because it takes attention and dedicated effort. Some people are just not up to the challenge of tending and feeding a young mind.
    I do think, however, if a parent is neglectful and restrictive and abusive — getting online is one way to preserve the mind of a child in an insane proposition.

  6. Hi Nicola!
    It sickens me too seeing these major entertainment companies so eager to steal the minds of these children from their parents. They are only suppling escape and fun — there isn’t any higher purpose or greater learning they are providing.
    When children become online portals to their parent’s bank accounts, we all need to pause and ask if that is logical and moral.

  7. I have a real problem with Disney – I think they overstepped that line a long time ago.
    I respect and admire what they have achieved over the years and love some of their creations – what I abhor is the slick money making *rip off* and the waste of resources ( plastics, packaging etc) that goes into the majority of the tat that parents are coerced into buying for their children as a result of any Disney Release these days.
    I can only see this getting worse – not better – now the children are going to be hard wired into Disney through these virtual worlds.

  8. Disney is bit of a creepy cultish sort of company, Nicola. I have a lot of friends who work at the movie studio and the theme parks and you are controlled and manipulated from the first day they started working there to “Be Disney” and “Love the Mouse” in every aspect of your day.
    It’s a little creepy for me to listen to them tell about their jobs because their minds no longer appear to be their own and their thoughts are manipulated by a major entertainment corpus.
    I don’t know how we can unplug the kids without sheltering them from the real world in that Disney is now inescapable everywhere and to not love Disney as a kid is to be ostracized for not being part of the culture of cartoon values and morals that pass today as something of substance.

  9. Hi David,
    I am not sure how to react as I see the gradual change of kid’s entertainment being virtual than actual.
    It leaves no room for imagination as such, and letting a kid to be exposed to such entertainment is a bit risky – I think.
    But again, it’s a choice.
    The influence of a bad/abusive/ self absorbed parents will surely make a mark – regardless of the entertainment method they choose.

  10. I am absolutely horrified at the quality and character of what passes for as children’s toys these days. The main purpose of many of them is to make children passive recipients to discoveries that have been pre-digested and pre-packaged. The relentless reiteration of what to value allows no quiet mind-space for reacting to and considering phenomena outside a manufactured world. This to me is frightening, life and imagination destroying. I think the current generation of parents have largely stopped thinking and acting in sensible life-affirming ways toward our young. Webkinz and the like are are truly limiting children’s learning. I say, turn off the tube amd other electronic sources of “connection” and offer less mediated experiences for the young. G

  11. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, suburbanlife!
    When I was young we made our toys out of paper and sticks and our glue was made from flour and water. It was a delightful existence of the mind — and when a colander can pass as a fencing mask, you know you’ve found your own inner Nirvana. 😀
    No one innately knows how to yearn or daydream or invent — those gifts are taught by parents and are handed down over generations.
    When that chain of understanding in family and social interplay is broken — the children are the ones left in pieces.

  12. Hi! I wanted to say Thanks for a really thought provoking post.
    I am new to WordPress and came across your post by searching the Webkinz tag. Because, crazily, I am a 36 year old Webkinz fan (or addict at my worst moments)!
    I don’t know the answer to the dilemma you pose, but I am a new step-mom to 2 step-kids and I have found the online world of Webkinz a wonderful vehicle to connect with the kids over. Being a low-physical individual, I much prefer sedentary activities like reading, card and board games and of course, the internet. This is in stark contrast to the kid’s birth mother. And so I’m really enjoying the unique connection I have with the kids. Interestingly enough, the online world does flow into the rest of the kid’s lives and does seem to spark their creativity. My step-son, completely of his own accord, made a 3D paper village based on one of his video games, which for his age, was one of the most artist and creative pieces I’ve ever seen.
    I guess like all things, moderation is the key.

  13. Reading through the comments to your post, I wanted to re-iterate something already said…
    “supervise them properly when they are plugged in”…
    This is imperative! The connection I spoke about earlier is only possible because I am actually involved with what they are doing online. I am always there. And the kids are always running to me, saying ‘look at this’ and ‘look at that’. Without this level of supervision and interaction, I think the online world is dangerous, in many different ways. Our kids are only allowed online when we are in the room. And their access is totally restricted to specific sites. Luckily my husband and I are very computer savvy! Still….I do worry how long we will remain in control…

  14. Welcome to WordPress, natzgal, and welcome here, too!
    Yes, what you describe is a good time with your new kids online. The fact that you are a fan of the online Webkinz helps you know the ins and outs of the site and you cannot be fooled by the kids or by the online producers.

  15. Oh, and to follow up on your point, natzgal… RIGHT! You are in charge. You are involved. You have rules and restrictions and you don’t let the internet babysit your kids for you. The internet is a privilege, not a birthright, and your local enforcement of family rules makes the online experience appropriate and safe.