Webkinz: A (Really!) Safe Way for Kids to Have Fun Online


Webkinz are one of those products that make you slap your forehead and wish you’d thought of it first. First you get your child a cute, soft, stuffed animal.  Then, presumably with your help, they log into the Webkinz World (Flash) website with the unique code on the animal’s tag, and they can do all kinds of cool things in an online community aimed just at kids.  My kids got their first Webkinz last weekend, and they’ve been playing with them online  (and taking the "real" animals to bed with them) as much as my wife and I will let them.

In Webkinz World, each animal has his/her (your child gets to pick the animal’s gender and name) own room, and your child can "buy" furniture, decorations, food, toys, books (with real stories), and other stuff for KinzCash.  If they need more KinzCash, they can play games, solve puzzles, or get a "job."  The interface keeps track of each pet’s happiness, health, and hunger, and children quickly learn how the actions they take affect each.  (If a pet’s health goes all the way down, it doesn’t die, just get sick.)  There’s more, which you can find out about at the Parent’s Area, including other real-world products like trading cards.

Kids can send messages (and virtual objects) back and forth to those on their Friends lists, but all messages are chosen from a predetermined list, so that nothing offensive can get through.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s completely safe (their privacy policy is one of the better ones I’ve seen), and has some useful things to teach, like spending vs. saving and being responsible for a creature’s welfare.  But it’s also a whole lot of fun.  My wife and I have even been considering getting our own Webkinz, so we can play, too.

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