Way Better than Webkinz

by Stefani on 21-August-2008

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?"

"Oh nuthin."

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…

In Their Own World

 and that's good enough for me. 

Lynn August 21, 2008 at 6:35 am

Luckily we are unaware of webkins at this house. My boys are too old and P starts preschool in a few weeks. I was a little worried about her being exposed to things like this. I should be confident that what we do daily as a family will come out strong as it did in your case.
When the boys were younger Pokemon and Beanie babies were all the rage. It is hard to resist. My M ended up making his own Pokemon style cards. I saved some of them. I didn’t like that he was copying something that I felt so strongly against. Something that in my mind was only designed to separate children from their money. I was, however, impressed with the creativity he put into his cards. He came up with his own creatures and special talents for them and such. That too, ended up being a good thing.
Thanks for reminding me how to approach the mass market mess.

MIMI43girlz August 21, 2008 at 6:44 am

Sounds to me like Mom has “got-it” too…
you must be a wise lady of about 150 years to have so much wisdom packed in…LOL.
It would so much easier to parent if you could just be Mom and didn’t have to be Mother too.. I remeber walking in these same shoes..and you DONE GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cindy August 21, 2008 at 6:49 am

Absolutely brilliant!

Our Green Nest August 21, 2008 at 6:57 am

You’re one wise mama!!

Aileen August 21, 2008 at 6:59 am

Webkinz — hate them. They have invaded my home. With 4 kids, it’s hard to keep them away (the Webkinz, not the kids). They get them at birthday parties; grandparents supply them; kids use gift $$ to purchase them; they multiply at night — I’m convinced.

For a very long time, my kids knew nothing of the on-line part of the Webkinz deal. We cut off the tags in advance, and kept them in the dark. Sneaky? Perhaps. But then, along came a playdate who alerted them to all they had been missing — treats online, rooms online, jobs online, oh my. Occasionally we’ll let them participate, but frankly, with only 1 working computer, they have more issues trying to sort out who gets to go online. In the end, it’s just not worth the aggravation; and thankfully, they agree, for the most part, with this assessment.

Oh, and did you know that when the ice cream truck rings its bell everyday around 3 p.m., it means there is no more ice cream left? He just rings it so everyone doesn’t come running and get their hopes up. And before everyone gasps and says how terrible it is that we’re depriving the kids of an afternoon indulgence of years gone by, we do occasionally flag down the truck, just to ask if he doesn’t have maybe 4 more. Amazingly, he does, and amazingly, the kids are okay with this, unknownst to them, “trickery.”

Mama Urchin August 21, 2008 at 7:02 am

What a wonderful way to handle it. Mine are blissfully unaware of so many things, including webkinz but Katrina is going to public school for Kindergarten in two weeks so I’m sure it’s all about to change.

Kate August 21, 2008 at 7:21 am

I’m going to do the poster board thing, that’s great!… we also used boxes to make rooms that they decorate for the stuffed animal when they are not on line… that was my daughter’s birthday party… they had roof top pools etc… and we make clothes for them too… crocheted ponchos and other dresses out of fabric…

Sarah August 21, 2008 at 7:23 am

My thoughts exactly…congratulations on continually inspiring creativity!

Penny August 21, 2008 at 7:25 am

That is one amazing story! I’m sure your children appreciate you letting them make their own choices (with boundaries) so they can grow and be themselves! What a great momma you are!

Nadine August 21, 2008 at 7:30 am

I could have used this post about two years ago when my house was invaded with Webkinz. Last summer, both of my girls were in tears because I refused to buy a unicorn at the book store, and I turned to my husband and noted that we were doing pretty good, and he looked at me bewildered, and I repeated myself and explained that if this is what they have to cry about, they must have everything else they could possibly need. Needless to say, they have a pile of Webkinz from their own pockets and gifts, but they are no happier. I will definitely be getting out the posterboard and crayons. Thanks.

By the way, my parents wouldn’t buy me acid-washed jeans, and I thought they were evil. Turns out I am now absolutely thrilled that I don’t have any pictures of me wearing those nasty pants. 🙂 It would seem they knew a thing or two.

beki August 21, 2008 at 7:35 am

As usual Stefani, you blow me away!

kirsten August 21, 2008 at 7:35 am

way to go! one tough mama.

Regina August 21, 2008 at 7:37 am

Awesome! Good to have some strategies for the future. For right now the Munchkin is blissfully unaware of money, and things (other than his trains) – and for him a train station is blocks piled together, and a mountain has been made out of our bean bag chairs.

The imagination is a powerful thing! Love to watch it whirl!

Sarah Jackson August 21, 2008 at 7:39 am

Nice work Mama!! You found a great way to make the point.

We have one webkinz each and they mainly just play with the toy. There is an occasional foray onto the computer to take care of it, but I just didn’t make a big deal out of it and they quickly figured out that it wasn’t that fun.

Oh but the jeans. Be glad you don’t have girls.

Melanie O. August 21, 2008 at 7:42 am

My daughter has Webkinz, too, although I don’t really hate them. Going on the computer is a part of her (approximately) 2 hours of “screen time”, so she chooses between that or a movie. We don’t have cable, so she doesn’t usually watch general TV and I never have the TV on during the day. I never let her sit in front of the computer for 2 hours in a row, either. I see Webkinz as just another game to play on the computer (she likes PBS Kids and Nick Jr, too, among others). At first I was a bit disturbed by Webkinz, but I’ve come around to believing that it’s just one of those things that will be different about our children’s childhoods compared to our own. Our children will most likely use computers instead of notebooks and textbooks in college and will probably use them in their work as adults. I think Webkinz is just another form of entertainment that we grown-ups don’t like. I’m a big believer in moderation. I grew up with very strict parents and all those “no”s made me very curious about what I was missing. My daughter has had her Webkinz for about 8 months and the excitement has worn off enough that she only goes on the site about once a week. And, she still loves to draw, make books, play with dolls, read and use her imagination! That hasn’t changed a bit!

emily August 21, 2008 at 7:46 am

we, too, were introduced by cousins. and then there was the indulgent grandmother. oh my. here, the magic has mostly worn off, thankfully. love how you handled it, of course.

Lynn August 21, 2008 at 7:47 am

My ten-year-old wanted to buy Webkinz (discovered at the florist’s — is no place safe?!) and gushed about all of the neat things one could do with/for one’s Webkinz online. I gave a speech about why this creeped me out (for all of the reasons you mentioned), and while he was disappointed, he wasn’t devastated. Next thing I knew, he had decided to buy one for himself and one for his brother, but to give the web codes to a friend. Not what I expected! I love your draw-your-own idea — you definitely went that extra mile!

k August 21, 2008 at 7:51 am

What a great way to handle it! I wish I could figure out a way to creatively cut down the video games in my house. It has been hard because we have teens and a 2nd grader. I tell every one he’s a mini teenager. He has been since he could walk and talk! So far we just have “No Game Days” every week. He doee not greet me each morning with “Hello you wonderful mom!” Instead it is “Is this a no game day?”

Linn August 21, 2008 at 8:10 am

I just cannot say how wise this idea was! My boys are 2 and 4 and I don’t have much longer before they get sucked into the world of consumerism. I love your solution. Thank you for sharing.

Holly August 21, 2008 at 8:16 am

You are a wise mama.

heather August 21, 2008 at 8:38 am

wow, this is some award worthy parenting right there. well done mama. this is the kind of parenting that affects the young ones in a way that contributes big time to who they become as adults, adults we would be proud to know and have in our communities.

Caroline August 21, 2008 at 8:45 am

Wonderful solution and something I will keep in mind when it becomes time for my two little ones to deal with the Webkinz!

Cassandra August 21, 2008 at 8:55 am

Where did you get your smart mama degree? I want to go there… Thanks for your wisdom! I’m sure my day will come and I will always remember this lesson myself!

Kristi August 21, 2008 at 9:29 am

yeah!! I am glad you found an alternative. We need to plan a night out again or play date.

Sam August 21, 2008 at 9:52 am

You are a wise woman who outsmarted the consumer market! Congratulations! P.S. I was dying for parachute pants like Michael Jackson and my mom refused. I told her a few weeks back how distraught I was and she said she’d buy me a pair – 20 some years too late! I survived too.

Danielle August 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

Excellent! Score one for the mama. My son has a Webkinz (or whatever) snake, but with dial-up … it’s still just a fuzzy stuffed snake.

Works pretty well in that capacity.

Sarah August 21, 2008 at 10:21 am

It’s hard to know where to draw a hard line isn’t it? I often wonder what it will be like when Jack hits middle school age and is DYING for some $100 jeans or something. (And I had a small glimpse of it when he was playing with another little boy who asked where he had gotten one of his toys. Jack answers, “at a rummage sale.” The little boy says, “at a WHAT?!” LOL)

Teresa August 21, 2008 at 10:22 am

This is wonderful! And I truly love your approach. If you forced them away from their webkinz, they would be upset for quite some time. But…taking ownership in this idea to do something other than stare at a screen, I’m sure it is completely okay with them!

ernabeytut August 21, 2008 at 10:28 am

lovely wise words…I’ll keep them in mind whenever needed…

YayaOrchid August 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

Well, you are one wise woman, I’ll grant you that. I, on the other hand, succumbed to Nintendo, Playstation, and whatever games were the ‘must haves’ of their childhood. Looking back, I think I was just too lazy to fight them over it. So hard to say no to your kids sometimes. (sigh)

Jennifer August 21, 2008 at 11:35 am

You go girl! Mine two are too little or such struggles just yet, but I’m certain that my day is coming. We are an all-natural, mostly organic, whole grain eating family that lives debt-free (except for the house…) on one income. Oh the ways that my kids are “deprived”! I know that they’ll be healthier and come to respect our values in the long run, but I also know that we will have some tough battles. Thanks for sharing your story; I learned a lot about being a good parent from this one.

Allison August 21, 2008 at 11:52 am

All I can say is, right on. =)

Baba August 21, 2008 at 11:53 am

One battle down, many more to go mom. Keep up the fight. You’re doing great.

Hannah August 21, 2008 at 12:05 pm

I totally relate to your dilemma — how much to impose my own standards and preferences on my children — where to insist, where to let go. Only days after my last self-congratulations that we’d slipped under the Pokemon radar unbruised, my son came to me asking to collect the cards. Oh boy.

What creative problem-solving on your part! Thanks for sharing.

nina August 21, 2008 at 12:28 pm

I’ve watched in horror as my nieces played endlessly with their on-line pets while visiting our house.

Only a good, creative and intuitive mother could capture a child’s imagination as you’ve described. It is inspiring to realize that there is a right time to make a point.

Amy August 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm

As a mom in the minority here, I don’t hate webkinz and I’m not dead set against movies or tv. To me it’s really about what is best in a specific situation for a given person or family. Mine is different than yours and yours is different than your neighbor’s. I think you handled the whole thing wonderfully and it seems like you stayed true to yourself and your philosophy. And after all, isn’t that what matters?

jackie August 21, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Yep, sometimes you have to pick the battles. Really I’m just saying that to rationalize the caving in we have done at our house by letting the 13 year old buy his own cell phone. Love the way you handled the webkins! We are hoping that by spending his own money and paying for any overages on the phone bill this will be a way to reach a draw.

Kristy August 21, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Very well handled! Given the choice I find that my kids usually make the right decision.Aslong as they are aware of all the options.It may take a while and they may not take the most direct route but they seem to get there.

Corynne Escalante August 21, 2008 at 1:21 pm

wow, what a great idea! its inspiring that you made the effort instead of just sitting back and saying, “oh well…”

hanna August 21, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Brilliant :o)

melissa s. August 21, 2008 at 1:46 pm

awesome! i’m going to file this away in my mind for the day that my kids discover webkinz (or whatever the webkinz of the day is then)!

Marnie August 21, 2008 at 1:50 pm

genius. thanks for that. i was wondering how the story was going to end (i was sucked into that false dichotomy of “either-or”) and so glad to see you ended it with “neither” or “both”. an inspiration.

misschris August 21, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I love how you handled this. Why get accustomed to the limitations set by ‘options to choose from’??? ha!

Kez August 21, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Sneaky 😉 I like it!

We have one Webkinz courtesy of a gift – B’ll spend time online every now and then to play with him, but luckily hasn’t been obsessed by it. I’m holding your trick up my sleeve for when he does though 🙂 I also like Kate’s idea of decorating box rooms for them.

I wanted a Pound Puppy when I was a kid (the first time they were popular) – I still jokingly tease my mum that she’d never buy me one!

Jade August 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm

I go through the very same battles. Often with myself… You are one tricky mama!

Suzanne August 21, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I can totally identify with this post! My kids didn’t know what a webkinz was or a Hannah Montana and I caved a little, but broke out the antedotes to the craziness and it caught on too. Just takes a little creativity–Bravo for you!!!

Nancy August 21, 2008 at 4:40 pm

A very thought-y post. I love it. That line between “no” and “yes” is so rarely straight. My big question though is how, with three kids, do you get the brain time to puzzle these things out, and the energy to put them into action? Being intentional with my kids is what I’m always striving for, and I find it tough, tough, tough. I love this “quandry” comic from Hathor, as I have mental conversations like this with myself every day: http://www.thecowgoddess.com/2005/03/09/candy-quandry/
–Nancy in NC

erin August 21, 2008 at 5:07 pm

i am not a fan either.
but each girl has one, and after a bad 1/2 hour online trying to figure the site out, they gave up on the computer and now just play with them. i like that.

Molly August 21, 2008 at 6:02 pm

My kids were sucked in to the webkinz world last year. But we made very specific rules. They were allowed one webkin each. I explained that we have one dog for our family, so they were each allowed only one webkin each. Since they only have a half our of computer time a day, the webkinz have not been very popular this summer. I know that school will bring a new interest, but I plan to try your posterboard idea….it is brilliant.

Becca August 21, 2008 at 6:37 pm

amazing. You are right though, it would have taken much longer for them to realize that there are cooler things than webkins than if they hadn’t gotten them. But I do think it’s good that they spent their own money. That teaches a good lesson.

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