Stories about: Ask the Mediatrician

Are websites like “Animal Jam” appropriate for tweens and young children?

Michael RichQ: 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.

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What Can I do to Protect My Kids from Seeing Inappropriate Fashion Catalogs?

Michael RichQ: I recently received the Spring 2015 Catalog from the department store Barneys New York. The catalog was sent to my house without any envelope or sleeve to protect it from being opened by kids, even though it contains pictures that I believe are inappropriate for young children. What can be done to prevent such mailings in the future? Are there any laws that govern how such catalogs are sent?

– Mad about mail, USA

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Ask the Mediatrician: How can I maintain my 5-year-old’s interest in age-appropriate Legos?


Q: My Lego-loving 5-year-old son is now interested in the Lego Ninjago series (influenced by his 7-year-old cousin). I have tried to keep him from Ninjago as it seems to me to be inappropriate for his age. Currently, all of his Lego building has been with the City series. I believe he looks at Ninjago as the “next level” and wants to be considered “big enough” to play with it. How can I keep him interested in his current Legos?

Lost about Lego, USA

A: Dear Lost,

This question showcases an experience that many parents face when dealing with brands and products that are structured for consumers (children) to “level up”. You are correct in realizing that you, as a parent, have a responsibility to monitor and help direct your son’s play in ways that are developmentally optimal. Part of that responsibility is recognizing when certain toys, experiences, and activities would not be beneficial (or could be harmful) for your child to engage with.

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What should I know about the relationship between social media and suicide?

Michael RichQ: Yesterday one of my daughter’s friends committed suicide. She was a sophomore in college. I am saddened and angry. I went to the girl’s Facebook page and saw that she had 1,194 friends. All of her pictures show her with an impossibly bright smile. Her wall is full of messages sounding like, “I know we have only talked once, but you meant so much to me.”

I wonder if you have any advice or resources about the relationship between social media and depression/suicide. I need to educate myself and talk to my daughters and younger sons. I see a remarkable disconnect between their reality and how they appear on social media. I have always been annoyed by my daughter’s use of the word “friend” for someone she barely speaks with, and I dislike it when my children (and their peers) post pictures  where they are always partying, smiling, laughing, as if there was no other moment to share.

~ Saddened by suicide, USA

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