As a parent with young children often on the Internet, I have been asked more than once “How do you spell Disney.com?” This summer as we moved from Texas to Oklahoma, my six year old asked this question from the back seat of our car where she worked on my laptop. I had to explain that we don’t have Internet access from our car YET– And reflected how “magical” the Internet must seem to a young mind: This invisible, seemingly ubiquitous virtual world of bells and whistles that we can access wirelessly from our laptop computers.
I am a vocal advocate for critical media literacy, for people of all ages, and am also concerned about targeted advertising for children that seems to be all around us in the United States and many other countries. Young people wield considerable financial influence in many households, and the marketers definitely know this. I object to the idea that it is ok for our children to be constantly bombarded by media messages encouraging consumption and constant entertainment. According to the article “Commercial pressure on children and young people” from the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family Affairs:
Children and adolescents are increasingly becoming target groups for aggressive forms of marketing practices and for commercial pressure with a view to stimulate and increase their consumption. One reason for this is that they play an important role as consumers. In addition, children and adolescents have a vital role in choices concerning consumption in the family economy. At the same time, consumer goods are becoming more important factors in shaping the identities of children and youngsters. This means that minors are concerned with the symbolic value of objects and that their perception of these factors are more important than the actual functions of objects. We see too many examples of commercial interests that cynically exploit the uncertainty children and adolescents feel about their identity and self-esteem.
Given this environment of “aggressive media marketing towards children,” I agree with Tim Donovan of Imbee.com that:
- The Internet is not just for adults, it is also for kids, and kids deserve their own spaces online that cater to their own interests and needs without a barrage of advertising.
- Developers of online spaces for children should acknowledge the need to develop ENGAGING environments for them that do more than entertain and serve as conduits for targeted advertising.
Yesterday’s CNet article, “Imbee goes where Disney, AOL failed” observes (correctly I think) that it’s amazing adults haven’t been faster to recognize this need for non-commercial (or at least LESS commercial) online destinations for young people. The article mentions the strategic partnership just announced between Imbee and Web Wise Kids, a non-profit Internet safety group. Web Wise Kid’s motto is, “Equipping Today’s Youth to Make Wise Choices Online.” This needs to be the motto of many school districts– but it could be extended to be, “Equipping Today’s Youth to Make Wise Choices Online and INRL.” (In Real Life)
Imbee is just getting started, and Disney.com has been around a relatively long time by Internet standards– but I think a strong case can be made that engaging destinations like Imbee are BETTER than places like Disney for our young people precisely because they are not motivated fundamentally by a desire for commercialization, monetization, and (to take a cynical view) exploitation of children’s monetary influences in their own families at the potential expense of their own self-esteem and concept of identity.
I do NOT want the self-image and identity of my own daughters shaped and defined by PowerPuff girls, Barbie, American girl dolls, or any other commercial product. No we do not ban these products in our home, and I think they can be fine to play with– but the line between play and identity can be a fine one. In the future when we DO have Internet access in our car and my daughters are online, I think I’ll be much happier to hear them ask, “how do you spell Imbee.com, Dad?” instead of asking for Disney.com. 🙂
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On this day..
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- Chance favors the connected mind - 2010
- The Ethic of the Link, Hyperlinked Writing, and Mainstream Media Link Hangups - 2009
- Theater magic in Wamego, Kansas and KSU football - 2008
- Value of blogs and citizen journalism demonstrated in Myanmar - 2007
- Please submit a proposal for K-12 online! - 2006
- Friending on social networks - 2006
- CUE Opposes DOPA - 2006
- Education leaders propose more useless and counterproductive ideas - 2006
- Educational technology legal issues - 2005