A Webkinz World

webkinz.jpgMeet the newest members of our household. Thanks to a Christmas present from a neighbor, we are officially a Webkinz household. They are darn cute, I must say. Having 2 preschoolers, we (my wife and I) are on the brink of truly experiencing what the next generation is going to grow up with. There is lots of talk about not knowing what jobs will exist or what technology will exist in 10 years. Any time those conversations come up, I try to put my kids’ faces on it and wonder what it will be like for them, and what I can do to make it better.

Back to the Webkinz, though. Talk about seeing how kids are attracted to technology – do an informal poll of 4th or 5th grade students – many or most have a cell phone, but they ALL have a Webkinz (or 3 or 7 or 10) pet. I’m going to try to verbalize my initial reactions to the web portion of Webkinz without being too judgemental, and compare it to my younger days.

The Webkinz site is a marketers dream come true – it does an incredible job of getting kids to come back every day (or every hour), creating must-have materialistic needs and gambling hopes in the youngest of children. Oops, sorry, I was going to try not to be too judgemental – I’ll keep working at it. The site is absolutely entertaining, though. I think back to when I was an Atari 2600 fanatic, and also spent too much time in the local arcades pumping quarters into the machines. Had something like this been around, I would have been first in line to get one.

The site does a good job of keeping kids safe (restricted chat, etc.) and a parental control account lets parents put limits on chat features and more. The advertising is all Webkinz related (why on earth would they want to advertise something not on their own site???), and overall, its a fun way for kids to play – technologically. This is where it is ever so important to keep balance – the amount of technological play available to our kids has exploded. The virtual world has reached down to the youngest kids, taught them how to use a mouse, and has them hooked.

So, what to do? Throw the Webkinz out, and block the Internet? Probably not a good solution – today it’s Webkinz, tomorrow, who knows (kinda like MySpace -> Facebook). I had lots of down time as a kid, and played lots of video games. I think I turned out OK (depending on who you ask…) What is different about the new trends for kids is the online component. What is not new is the “must-have” mentality (such as the Cabbage Patch craze). The Internet has provided a whole new host of marketing tools for businesses, and as I have said previously, businesses are in the business of making money, and will pursue whatever avenue they can to be successful. You can’t blame them for doing it, but you have to be ever so careful not to get caught up in it.

Balance is the key concept here – and one that has always been a key in growing kids the right way. How do we balance the developmental capability of student’s brains (what they are capable of) in this new technological time with what they need to learn in school?

Parting thought #1: I wonder what the first website is a child who recieves an XO laptop goes to?

Parting thought #2: I wonder if there is any kickback from Webkinz for the free publicity for their site?