I despise Webkinz.
They're cute, admittedly.
There's no denying that it's a neat concept. I kind of wish I'd thought of it.
For the uninformed, Webkinz are little stuffed animals that come with a secret code. You plug this code into the website and then you take care of your virtual animal, and build it's world. You have to feed it, take it to the doctor, create it's home, heck, you can even plant it a garden.
But really, do kids need another excuse to stare at a screen? Do they need to have one more reason to buy into consumerism? (pun very much intended) Not only do they end up thinking they must have more and MORE and MORE Webkinz creatures, but then those blasted little creatures need more and more and more gunk online, so you "have" to sit there and play games to earn "Kinz Cash" so that your pet has as many rooms and cool thingies as your buddy's animal does.
Thankfully, my kids were blissfully unaware of Webkinz until the fateful day that they spent the night with their cousins and were introduced to a whole new world.
They came home telling me all about this fantastic "new" toy and could they PLEASE have one too. Today? Right now? Can we go NOW????
"Um, no. It's not your birthday or christmas or even Martin Luther King Day, there's no good reason to rush right out and buy something new."
Insert dejected faces and moaning here.
Then they got the bright idea that they'd use their own money. They begged. They pleaded and I began to crumble.
Did I really want to be "that" mom? Was this worth taking a stand against, or was this one of those issues on which I should give a little?
I caught myself remembering how when I was in middle school it was Guess jeans and Keds shoes that I'd die without. My parents thought they were a ridiculous waste of money so I went to school with no zippers on the ankles of my jeans, and knock off Keds. I truly believed that I might shrivel and die. I didn't, and I can see my parent's wisdom now. It *was* a ridiculous waste of money. It took me a very long time to come around to that understanding though.
I have a friend who laughs now about how she BEGGED her mother to buy "normal" cereal when she had sleep overs, instead of the homemade granola they usually ate. She remembers the day too that one of her friends cried over dinner when handed a plate of vegetarian lasagna. She said, "but I'm a meatatarian and I want to go home!"
My friend understood and appreciated why her family did things the way they did, but sometimes she just wanted to be "normal."
I get that. I'm not saying we should go about compromising our principles just so other people like us, or that we should teach our kids to bow to ill-constructed norms, but I am wondering… am I really helping my child to understand our values, am I helping him to "get it" by "just saying no?"
I let them buy the Webkinz.
I watched them get sucked in.
I bided my time.
And then, a few days later, while they were on the computer, lost in Webkinz world, I brought out a bunch of poster board and crayons.
"Watcha doin' mom?"
type type type
"Hey guys, tell me about your Webkinz houses. What's in them?"
"Oh, well, mine has four rooms. A bathroom, a kitchen a yard and a living room. I even have a disco ball and a gumball machine."
"Oh cool! Do you have a rollercoaster?"
Rolling eyes. "You can't do that mom!"
"Oh. Well I can. I'm drawing my own dream house, and mine has a rollercoaster."
This causes him to turn his head away from the computer. "Whoa! Neat!" Back to the computer.
"Yep. I think I'm going to put in a donut factory too, and maybe a whole bunch of teepees in the yard so I can have big campouts with my friends. Can you do that on Webkinz?"
Blank stares. "Um. No."
"Too bad. I think maybe over here I'll have a waterslide and over here a zipline to the pasta palace. What do you think?"
At this point, they came clamoring down from their computer perch and joined me on the floor.
They drew and imagined for nearly two hours, while their Webkinz pets languished alone.
There were lazy rivers (or a moat, depending on how you look at it), slurpee spraygrounds, hamburger and pizza making robots, karate dojangs and movie theaters, wood working shops and laboratories with "every imaginable part you could need". It was really, really cool.
They've taped together about six poster boards and hung them on their walls. They add to them pretty regularly, when inspiration strikes.
Besides the really amazing creativity though, we had nice long talk about never underestimating your own imagination, about how poster board and crayons are SO much cheaper than all the money they spent on their Webkinz, about how fun it is to create together instead of staring at a screen alone.
Then came the music to my ears, "Mama this is WAY better than Webkinz!"
It doesn't get much better than that.
Don't get me wrong, they still play with their "pets" online. They still snuggle the stuffed version. But they get it now. They understand that it isn't the be all end all. They aren't craving more pets and I don't have to work too hard to peel them away from the screen. They know that there's a big wide world outside of Webkinz world.
I'm pretty confident that it would have taken them MUCH longer to come to those conclusions if I had just said no to Webkinz.
So, I'm not real sure that I won that battle, but I'm pretty confident that I can at least call it a draw…
and that's good enough for me.