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Children online, and predatory advertising

answered 08:09 AM EST, Sat November 19, 2011
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My 7 year old son is always wanting play on these free games websites for kids. They really are websites that are designed with kids in mind and with basically only age appropriate games – nothing too violent or too sexy or anything like that.

I don’t let him play very much because I don’t think that these games do him as much good as playing outside or with his imagination, but he loves them so I do relent and let him play a couple few times a week. But last time I did he showed me this ‘really cool’ site where he could win real money and prizes – and what it was, was basically that you played games and you could win tickets for playing well in games. And then when you had enough tickets you could enter into competitions like bingo games or draws to win cash and prizes. Here is the website I am talking about. http://www.candystand.com/play/bingo http://www.candystand.com/prizes

Is working to earn tickets so you can spend them to try to win contests of chance to win money so very different from in real life working to earn money so you can spend it on contests of chance to try to earn more money? Isn’t that called gambling? Isn’t it bad to be teaching young children how much fun it is to gamble? I mean the website basically makes itself look like a slot machine. Am I crazy or should sites like this be allowed to prey on children in this way?!! Am I crazy here…?

Donna Hunter Says...

Donna Hunter D. Hunter
LCSW, CAP

People who advertise will do anything to keep you buying their product or in this case keep you on their website. That is their job.  Offering toys and prizes to children would of course keep them in the game.  As far as advertising will go , we are the consumers, even for our children.  If we don't like a product or service, do not buy or use them.  That is what stops  predatory advertising.

The research on gaming and its effects on mental health is new and spotty at best.  There are those that see gaming as helpful and beneficial and those who see it as isolating and harmful.  I am in the middle of the pack seeing that anything we do in moderation is okay.  There are pluses to gaming and the social interaction it offers.  There are some real down sides as well.

As a parent I do have a concern about a game, that encourages kids to enter into games of chance.  The research on gambling and how it effects the brain is much more convincing.  There are reasons that casinos and online gambling sites look the way they do, sound the way they do... it is all to increase a sense of dissociation.  The thrill of the win effects the brains neurochemistry and can become addictive over time.  Even at a carnival the concept of winning tickets is common, but the child is able to convert the tickets to a real prize.  They are not risking it all on a game of chance.

Over all, you are the parent.  Leaving him unattended to find other game sites, is like leaving the barn door open and hoping the  animals will stay inside.  At 7, his thinking is still black and white, one online game is fun so is this other one.  He doesn’t have the ability to discriminate what is best for himself in this area.  Having him play computer games that are skill building and not online, allows you to know the content and he is not able to switch over to something else when you are not in the room.  If he is online, stay with him. If he moves to a game that you are not comfortable with him playing, you redirect him to what is okay.  He may protest, but right now you still have some control about what information is going into his head.

You have created balance for him.  He has a limited amount of time to play.  That is the real world.  We have time to work, time to play, time to take care of responsibilities, time to socialize etc.  If we only did the things we wanted to do, not much would get accomplished.  Encouraging his imagination is very important.  That can be done outside, interacting with friends and yes on the computer.  You have to be in charge of what computer interface he is using, and how long he uses it.  I am sure you don’t let him stay outside all night just because he is really enjoying riding his bike and pretending to be a NASCAR driver.  We are in charge of setting  limits and boundaries so are children are safe and so they can learn to set limits and boundaries on themselves later in life.

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