Kid’s Attention Valued at $1.12 Trillion Annually

My kids can tell me about all the latest Disney movies. And they can rattle off the specs of just about every toy that they want. Worse yet? They are armed with lines that tell me all about why buying that toy is good for them and the deal they will get if they buy it online by a specific date.

The culprit? Savvy marketers are hitting them where I’m not looking. Sites that I’ve deemed safe for them to play on are now rewarding them for watching well-placed ads. My own kids are earning Webkinz bucks by watching trailers for movies. It’s not just Webkinz, it’s all of them.

On the table? Getting kids to influence their parents spending habits.

$1.12 trillion. That’s the amount that kids influenced last year in overall family spending, says James McNeal, a kid marketing consultant and author of Kids as Consumers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children. “Up to age 16, kids are determining most expenditures in the household,” he says. “This is very attractive to marketers.” 

Marketing to Kids Gets More Savvy with Technology, USA Today, August 15th 2011. – Read the rest

What does this have to do with youth ministry? Absolutely everything. I’m not saying you need to market your ministry to your students. But I am saying that you need to know that there are others out there marketing to your students in ways that are more savvy and more influential than your flyer and stage announcement.

Your retreat, your camp, your mission trip… things like that are competing for the same $1.12 trillion. Sad. But true.

Tip for Webkinz parents: Go into your kids account and turn off third-party ads.

Question: Should the government regulate advertising to children? 

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Stoney and Friends

Stoney and Friends

Stoney and Friends

Originally uploaded by mclanea

I woke up this morning to see Stoney, the family dog, laying on his blanket completely surrounded by the kids Webkinz.

parenting Web/Tech

5 Best Online Communities for Kids

If you don’t have young kids, than you probably have no idea that social networking has really taken off for kids. In fact, I’d call these social play sites. Our kids are completely addicted to them. They are safe, fun, and most of them teach values that any parent would like to encourage. Here are the top 5 in no particular order. Our kids say “We like them all the same!

#1 Web Kinz (Cost: Stuffed Animal about $15) Chances are if you’ve heard of one site kids are hooked on, this is it. Parents buy a Web Kinz stuffed pet at a boutique store (like Hallmark) and once home parents create an account for that animal. Kids play games and do tasks to earn money. In turn, with the money the kids can buy accessories for their child’s online version of their pet, feed their pet, take him to the doctor, or even send them on vacation! What I love about Web Kinz is that the site is constantly updated with new challenges. I also love that kids learn a bit about the value of money, earning things, and trading. What I don’t like is that the stuffed animals are $15-20 each and the kids always want a new one.

#2 Club Penguin (Cost: Free and subscription service) This is Disney’s entry into social networking. There are two levels, paid and free. Our kids only use the paid component and seem to like it just fine. Unlike Web Kinz, a child’s character in Club Penguin is decidedly social. Within their virtual world the penguins can go to a series of different rooms. Our kids love taking their penguins to parties! I love that the kids can play against each other on seperate computers. Snow ball fights abound here in San Diego! As a parent, I like that Club Penguin is a bit more narrative based, too. I often will see Megan reading pages of text. And every day I catch her reading the site’s blog!

#3 HandiPoints (Cost: FREE Some pay upgrades available on This is a really cool concept. Instead of games competing with parents to get stuff done, HandiPoints is built around the idea that playing games online is a reward. Our kids love to earn points online by doing chores around the house. Parents have their own login area where they set up their child’s task chart. Megan and Paul each have seperate tasks and they can login to their own area to check off their daily tasks and earn points. With the points you can buy stuff like furniture and clothes for your character.

#4 Moshi Monsters (Cost: 100% FREE) This kicks the cuteness factor way up! Our kids love playing with their monsters. Kids adopt and name a monster they help create. The more they play that game and earn rewards, the more control they get over their characters environment and personality. Mom and dad don’t really get the point of this one, but kids love it.

#5 Woogi World (Cost: Free and paid subscription) Our kids dig this site and it has a clear goal parents can understand. “Teaching kids internet safety, life values, and fun!” WW is run by a foundation with a specific goal for the site beyond commerce. So you may want to read up on it before letting your kids join. Individual kids can join, but you can also partner with schools so a whole classroom can create accounts to teach kids about safety. It’s a little like all the rest with a decidely educational and parental bend. Our kids like this one… and I can see teachers and homeschool parents endorsing this one as it is clearly the “safest” for kids, even if it isn’t the most fun.

What do your kids play? What sites are they hooked on? What sites should I have mentioned?


Happy Birthday Paul

Happy Birthday PaulDespite Paul’s preference to believe that he was never a baby, today is his 5th birthday.

On August 8th, 2003 Kristen and I drove to Mount Clemens General for Paul’s scheduled birth. Since his sister was a big baby our doctor felt no need to make Kristen wait the typical 2 weeks after the due date. And for good reason. Several hours later baby Paul was born at 9 lbs 2 oz.

If you’ve not spent time with Paul you are missing out. Paul is a blast. He is full of energy, creativity, stories, ideas, and spunk. Paul has some of the best faces you’ve ever seen. Seriously, he can roll his eyes in a way that just cracks me up.

Paul is also a very physical kid. One of our favorite things to do is “wrestle.” Wrestling at our house essentially means that I get on the floor and throw them around for a while. Then Megan and Paul do some massive WWE moves to try to break me.  They’ll jump off furniture or get a running start to dive onto my back. This is also a way I teach them to work together as the only way I’ll allow them to knock me down or pin me (they count to 4 and say, “We win!”) is to work together. While Megan and I always played together, Paul craves this physical contact. You’ll often see him run up and punch me in the stomach or pull my arm or push me or smack me on the butt. Those are all invitations to “fight.”

Here are a few more of Paul’s favorite things.

1. Karate. Paul has earned his first belt and can’t wait to start at his new school in San Diego.

2. Chicks. Paul’s man squeeze is Autumn. It doesn’t matter that she’s babysat him since he was about a week old, he’s madly in love with her. But she’s not his only girlfriend. At one point he claimed he had 100 girlfriends. Play on player.

3. Food. Seriously, the first thing he says when he wakes up is “What can I eat?” Sometimes he’s non-verbal in the morning and he just points to his mouth!

4. The computer. As I’ve talked about before, you’ve not lived until you see this little boy navigate his computer.

5. Superheros. Right now he’s into Pokemon. But he’s also into Power Rangers, Webkinz, and Scooby Doo.

Like his dad, Paul is very sensitive. As much as he likes the spotlight he also gets embarrassed easily. When he is confident about what he’s doing he is very confident. But when he is doing something he’s unsure about and he suddenly realizes other people are watching him, he bolts and hides.

I could go on writing about my son, but all of this is to say… Happy birthday Paul!

family Web/Tech

Paul and the Internet

Paul loves his macI’m a web geek, my wife is a (hot) web geek, and my kids are web geeks. If you don’t have young kids I don’t think you really understand what I mean by “our kids are web geeks.” So here is a visual for you. Paul, who turns 5 next week, navigates the web very well.

Paul can launch Firefox, click the address bar, and type in the URL of his favorite websites. From there he can completely navigate these sites. This includes some relatively complex things like typing in user names and password and printing documents. Here’s the catch… Paul can’t read. He is 4 years old.

Imagine all that Megan can do? She is 7 and has mastered browsing the internet, google, and can even launch various programs like Word. One of her favorite things is to write letters, play with the fonts, print them out, and hand them to her friends.

Sidenote to educators. You need more computers. While my kids may be slightly above the norm you need to step up both the rollout of computer time and the quality of projects you have them do. In first grade Megan would come home and say “I hate computer time. I already did everything at home and was bored.” Yeah, better step it up there to keep her enthusiasm. I don’t care that everyone doesn’t have broadband internet and everyone doesn’t have a computer at home. Educate my kid or you’ll lose her attention. And upgrade the teachers. Got a teacher that doesn’t want to use the computer? Fire ’em. Seriously. My kids don’t need teachers who were good twenty years ago. They deserve a teacher who will educate them for the future. Fire ’em and hire someone who can teach. Do it today. Then you’ll see your precious scores go up. Deal?

3 Websites ruling the roost this summer

#1 Club Penguin

#2 Webkinz

#3 Cartoon Network

How do the do this? Just like web browsers are smarter these days, wed design education is smarter as well. The operative word these days is “Interactive media design” or “IMD” for short. 

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Picture Post, July 4th 2008


Valentines Day

Love Frog WebkinzYep, it’s that day again. You know, the day of the year when men frantically run to Hallmark on their lunch hours to pick up that ultra-special card that expresses deep love in a shallow world.

Here’s a rant I posted 3 years ago today about Valentines Day.

Today is slightly more subdued. The kids are excited because we gave them the Valentine’s Limited Edition Webkinz Love Frog. His name is Valentine.

For those who are like me and do not appreciate Valentine’s Day. Just a reminder that we should take a few minutes to commemorate the massacre. Just makes me want to watch The Godfather tonight.


Money Management Lesson from Paul

Paul, 4 years old, is learning about money management on WebKinz.

Dad: What’s the secret to saving all that money?

Paul: You just have to stop spending money. And then you’ll have a lot.

Pretty good advice. What is your money management lesson?


Webkinz addicts

webkinzOur kids got Webkinz for Christmas. If you don’t have kids you probably have no idea what this is. Let me explain.

You purchase a Webkinz stuffed animal. They are roughly the same size as a beenie baby, maybe a tad bigger. On the tag is a Webkinz registration code. Basically, you register that stuffed animal to your child’s Webkinz account and their animal comes to life on the Webkinz website.

At Webkinz there is a mini-reality set up. Your child is responsible for taking care of their pet, including earning money to buy food and other stuff. Basically, kids play games to earn cash.

Our kids are hooked on this, Megan especially. She obsesses about waking up and feeding her bunny, Sparkles, and making sure she goes to the doctor 2-3 times per week. At first Megan was horrible with her Webinz cash but has since learned how to manage her money a little better. (She keeps a balance of about 3000)

Of course, Webkinz is good and bad. We love that our kids are good at computer stuff. Paul (4) can easily navigate the site. Plus in the course of learning how to do that he can now put in his complex user name and password. To see a 4 year old navigate a mouse, type his name, play games like checkers and classic Atari titles… it warms my heart. The bad part is that they want to play 24 hours per day. They fight over time and would happily skip getting dressed, eating, going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth, or otherwise socializing with the family.

So our house has been learning about boundaries. We use a timer system and we even use Webkinz as a reward/discipline system.

This is the world our kids live in. It’s not 100% different than the world I grew up in (Nintendo and Atari) but it is a tech savvy generation. They will spend hours doing something they like and are instantly bored if something has the least bit of imperfection.

Quite a challenge to reach this generation for Christ, isn’t it?