Q: Is Animal Jam an appropriate website for tweens and children as young as 5-year-olds? As a parent and librarian, I am concerned by a number of Animal Jam’s features, such as pushing players to purchase items within the website, and am skeptical as to the site’s “educational” value, even though it is associated with National Geographic. Is it ok for kids to be on the site?
– Jammed Online, USA
A: Dear Jammed,
Animal Jam is just one of many kid-oriented websites that present themselves as both free and educational, largely so that parents will allow their children to use them. Their association with a larger, well-known educational entity, such as National Geographic, is typical of these sites. They often purchase a sponsorship from a reputable, often non-profit institution for added credibility—even though they are not, in fact, part of that larger institution.
You are correct in noting that sites like these require some media literacy skills to fully understand how they work. These types of websites are called “freemium” sites, which means that while entry is free, you need to pay for “premium service” or additional features, as you and your children discovered with Animal Jam. Freemium sites for kids are designed to engage their imagination and desire for more. This tactic is common in the marketing world and is appropriately called the “nag factor” where a child nags a parent to buy a product or service—or, in this case, premium features.