Just wanted to point briefly to a new ethnographic study on young kids in online social environments that was released this week by Consumer Reports Web Watch and the Mediatech Foundation, which is the brainchild of my good friend Warren Buckleitner (and for which I serve, badly I might add, as vice president of the board.) The study looked at kids 2-8 and asked parents to create video journals of their children’s use of sites like Club Penguin, Webkinz and others, videos which were then analyzed for a number of different outcomes.

The bottom line:

We discovered that the digital world offers a wealth of opportunity for young children to play and learn. But even in this small sample of 10 families we found–too easily, in several circumstances–repeated examples of attempts to manipulate children for the sake of commerce.

And here are the key findings:

  • Even the very young go online.
  • The Internet is a highly commercial medium.
  • Web sites frequently tantalize children, presenting enticing options and even threats that their online creations will become inaccessible unless a purchase is made.
  • Most of the sites observed promote the idea of consumerism.
  • Logos and brand names are ubiquitous.
  • Subtle branding techniques are frequently used.
  • The games observed vary widely in quality, in educational value, and in their developmental match with children’s abilities.

The entire study, “Like Taking Candy from a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments” (pdf) is available for download. And, you can see excerpts from the video journals on YouTube.