Just wanted to point briefly to a new ethnographic study on young kids in online social environments that was released this week by Consumer Reports Web Watch and the Mediatech Foundation, which is the brainchild of my good friend Warren Buckleitner (and for which I serve, badly I might add, as vice president of the board.) The study looked at kids 2-8 and asked parents to create video journals of their children’s use of sites like Club Penguin, Webkinz and others, videos which were then analyzed for a number of different outcomes.
The bottom line:
We discovered that the digital world offers a wealth of opportunity for young children to play and learn. But even in this small sample of 10 families we found–too easily, in several circumstances–repeated examples of attempts to manipulate children for the sake of commerce.
And here are the key findings:
- Even the very young go online.
- The Internet is a highly commercial medium.
- Web sites frequently tantalize children, presenting enticing options and even threats that their online creations will become inaccessible unless a purchase is made.
- Most of the sites observed promote the idea of consumerism.
- Logos and brand names are ubiquitous.
- Subtle branding techniques are frequently used.
- The games observed vary widely in quality, in educational value, and in their developmental match with children’s abilities.
The entire study, “Like Taking Candy from a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments” (pdf) is available for download. And, you can see excerpts from the video journals on YouTube.
Bud Hunt says
Isn’t that pretty much what Club Penguin is – “manipulating children for the sake of commerce?”
I see potential – but also lots of Lil’ Capitalist training – in children’s social networks. Makes me sad. But, at the same time, my 3-year-old daughter can walk into a bookstore and point out which books and toys are the “boy” ones and which are the “girl” ones – so the offline world is doing a pretty good job of acculturating our kids, too.
Karen Janowski says
I watched the video – “Meet the Children” among other shorter videos.
Young minds being easily manipulated through engaging, interactive activities. Potentially more destructive than TV ads.
This is frightening on many levels and points to how we need to educate parents, and not just our students, about digital literacy.
We were just talking about ‘sticky’ websites using the CyberSmartz lesson in 6th grade. Mine are totally addicted to Club Penguin! At least they know it – but 6th graders are a bit older….
Reminds me of the way the stock is displayed in the cereal aisles of your local grocery store.
Dear Mr. Richardson,
I found this article to be surprising that already companies are trying to reach out their products to children at such a young age. I actually clicked on the links provided and did notice that you had to purchase a membership to either join the online learning and communicating site, or be able to access certain â€œabilitiesâ€ that maybe a certain game had. There are advertisements everywhere, even in the most unexpected areas like these websites that will then connect you to another site that is sponsored by yet another site that just wants you to buy their products. The thing is it is not actually the kids who are paying for these products it is the parents! Last time I checked an eight year old doesnâ€™t have a credit card which is what you usually need to purchase something online. It is total manipulation of the children and the parents, the kids want to be apart of the online community to maybe play the games or chat with other kids, and the parents canâ€™t say no to a â€œlearningâ€ experience.
Ethan L says
This is a very important subject to me because the internet can be a very dangerous place especially for young children. If a kid gets on my space and posts a bunch of information about themselves anyone can get to it and use it. It is kind of scary if you think about. I think parents should supervise there kids while they are on the internet or they should put parental guidance on their computer. Another danger is if the kid gets on a bad website and it gives the computer a virus. Those can be dangerous depending on what kind of information you have on your computer because it can possibly be hacked. If I was letting my kid on the computer I would just tell him what sites are ok to go on and what kind of sites are bad and I would block them just in case. Hopefully people can learn from you blog and prevent things like this from happening.
Well this is very interesting to me. My little brother who is seven thoroughly enjoys Club Penguin. I had no idea that they asked for you to purchase a membership or have you access other things on the cite. It is nice for kids to be able to play and learn online but it shouldn’t be right for the sites to attempt to manipulate children for the sake of commerce as you said. I find it really annoying in the first place when ads pop up continually when you are online trying to tempt you to buy something that you don’t really need. Like KellyS had said, the sites not only manipulate the kids but also the parents who are the ones who pay for the products that the child asks for. It doesn’t seem fair for the the kids to have to pay or buy something just to have fun and learn.
Anna Watkins says
I’m continually amazed at the “need” to have 2-year-olds working on developing the “mousing skills.” I didn’t mouse until I was 25 (digital immigrant, here), and that didn’t keep me down for long. My children (10 & 11) get far more Internet at school than at home. As I introduce them to e-mail & web searching at home, I see how vulnerable they are to flashing and “FREE!” The need for media literacy education grows and grows.