May 8, 2008 By News Report
Publishers of many major children's Web sites should do a better job disclosing sales and advertising information to parents, especially as more kids at younger ages go online to play and meet friends, says a study released Tuesday by Consumer Reports WebWatch and the Mediatech Foundation of Flemington, N.J.
For the study, parents in 10 families used video cameras to keep journals, providing insights into the way children use sites such as Club Penguin, Webkinz, Nick Jr., Barbie.com and others. Footage from those journals illustrates how young children respond to advertising and marketing tactics online.
The study, "Like Taking Candy from a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments," used ethnographic methods and focused on young children, ages 2 1/2 to 8.
Some key findings:
"There's no doubt young children love to go online, and we observed examples of wholesome, good quality, Web-delivered content," said Warren Buckleitner, the study's author. "But after watching ten hours of typical online play, we were shocked at the extent of manipulative behavior. This study shows that no one -- neither parents nor publishers -- really knows what is going on when children start up a browser. Ideally, the sites kids encounter should be designed by people with degrees in child development instead of MBAs.
"There's nothing more painful than watching a young child cry," Buckleitner continued. "But unfortunately, that's the end result for too many children who are spending time with 'state-of the-art' children's online content."
The study makes these and other recommendations for parents:
"We believe parents need a more complete picture of the Web sites where their young children are spending an increasing amount of time," said Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Reports WebWatch. "One test family spent $1,316 in a year on stuffed animals on a single site. Some sites play for profit on a child's emotions to the degree we saw begging, tantrums and even tears in the videos."
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