Last week in our 4th grade sunday school class, the kids mentioned something called Webkinz. They were crazy about these things, but since we had a lesson plan to stick to, we didn’t get to ask them more about these toys.
I decided to do my own research into this craze and learned the following:
* Webkinz are stuffed animals you can buy online or at stores. They run about $10-15 each, but prices are expected to rise soon. They’re a mixture of Beanie Babies and Tamagotchis (virtual pets)
* The most important thing about these toys is the code they give you with the toy that allows you to activate an online version of the “pet”. Otherwise, it’s just a regular stuffed animal
* When you activate the pet online, you get $2000 virtual dollars (KinzCash) to buy your pet food, toys, and other items. These items can be rather pricey. A fancy bed can run you about $1750 in KinzCash! Also, you can’t buy KinzCash with real cash (or it conveniently leaves that out of the FAQs if you can)
* You can earn more cash by playing games online, getting a job, or taking surveys. However, per Webkinz FAQ, these games are not gambling because “Webkinz members can not lose KinzCash playing any of our games. There are no wagers involved at all.”
* The pets need food or go hungry, and if they go hungry for too long, they get sick and need medicine, which all costs KinzCash. However, the pets never die, they just stay sick.
Now that you know what these cute little pets cost, do and require for care, let’s assess what they teach our children:
Educational Value of Webkinz
Basically, the only way these toys, or any toy,, can really teach a child is if the parents are actively involved in that education. If you just buy your kid the toy and give them free reign over the computer, then they’ll probably proceed in the following steps:
1. Immediately go to the “W Store” to buy food for their new pet
2. See all the other cool things they can buy and load up on cute toys, beds, and and fashion accessories
3. Realize they need more cash and go play games to earn it
4. Buy only the minimum amount of food for the pet because they want all the other cool things
5. Get so wrapped up in playing the games, they neglect their pet
6. Their pet gets sick and isn’t fun to play with anymore
7. The kid decides they would rather have a different pet and the cycle continues until the child is tired of the whole thing entirely
Basically, that’s how I play with toys, and everyone’s like me, right? Anyway, regardless of the deviation in the pattern above, your kid is going to need guidance when playing with their toys if you expect them to gain the right values and knowledge.
You’ll need to guide your child’s learning in the following areas:
1. Spending vs Saving (Value of Money) – do they really need all that junk to keep their pet happy? Maybe they should save up their earnings for something the pet could really use?
2. Appropriate online behavior, courtesy, privacy, safety and security – Webkinz offers online chats and video capability. Supposedly no one can see your videos, but they are being stored SOMEWHERE for SOMEONE to be able to access at any time
3. Responsibility and Accountability – You can’t just leave your pet while you go off and play games. You need to feed and walk that thing!
4. Time Management – Kids can easily spend hours and hours online with their pets, as well as chatting and playing games. They need to learn how to split their fun time with school and household work. They also need to spend time with REAL PEOPLE!
5. Costs vs Rewards – You can offer rewards for doing housework, getting good grades, etc. that go towards “online time”. You’re the parent and should control when they’re online versus helping you around the house
If you’re a hands-off parent, then please avoid this toy. Actually, I advise you to be more involved with your children, regardless of age. Our kids learn best through actions, not words, so please show them how to learn, how to deal with money, how to be safe, and responsible and accountable. Just buying kids things without teaching them how to value it is a worthless investment.
Be hands-on with your kids. Be involved. Be friends, but be leaders. Stand your ground because YOU’RE the boss.