Contributed by Dave Young, Zoodles Director of Product Design
The characters that children love are powerful tools able to incite both positive and negative behavioral patterns in children. It isn’t hard to find examples of how cartoon characters can undermine a parent’s authority in deciding how to raise their children. However the interests of the businesses that create this content and the families that consume it don’t have to be at odds.
It’s easy to understand the motives of each group at a high level. Content creators want to entertain your children so that they can influence your consumer habits, while Parents want to raise children that are happy, healthy, and smart.
Between these lines there is great opportunity to align the interests of both parties. The company that aligns itself with the interests of parents is the better company.
Raising happy children:
Everyone is thrilled to be working together to help parents raise happy children. If a character makes a child happy, the parent is happy and will buy branded merchandise which makes the company happy. For this reason there’s a ton companies out there competing to entertain your children. We should recognize this as an opportunity for parents to expect more from these brands and be more selective over which characters they allow into their homes.
Raising healthy children:
It’s really hard for busy parents to raise healthy children and frustrating when their efforts are at odds with some of the branded characters their children love. The content creators, in the effort to get better brand exposure, are inadvertently harming your children by associating their brands with foods that lead to serious health problems such as obesity and diabetes.
This has been popping up a lot in the news lately:
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is threatening to sue McDonald’s if they don’t stop distributing Happy Meal toys within 30 days. CSPI claims the use of Happy Meal toys is illegal and predatory and lures kids into unhealthy eating habits.
“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children. McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity — all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction,” stated CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner in a letter to McDonald’s CEO.
The findings, reported online June 21 in Pediatrics, reflect on the food preferences of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls who found foods tastier when the packaging bore the likenesses of beloved TV and movie characters.
“So the priority should be first to get these characters off of unhealthy foods,” she added. “And then as a goal ultimately to get them actually put on the packaging for healthy foods. But first we have to focus on dealing with the unhealthy options, because I don’t think slapping them on healthy foods while they’re still on unhealthy foods is going to work.”
Raising smart children:
Unfortunately both parents and teachers face some really tough challenges in these economic times. Budgets are being cut left and right in our schools and at home.
Zoodles is working really hard on a very creative solution that aligns the interests of content creators with those of parents and teachers. Content creators are a bit ahead of the curve trying to market the brands you buy offline by providing free games online (eg. Dora The Explorer Games, Blues Clues Games, Sid the Science Kids Games, Curious George Games, Lego Games etc etc). The internet is a great place for these brands to market themselves because parents and teachers have come to accept that while TV “rots the brain” computers offer new interactive educational opportunities.
However, parents and teachers need a solution that doesn’t require their constant supervision. They’re afraid of their children accidentally deleting files or navigating to content that’s inappropriate or too advanced for them to play independently. They’re afraid of these things because they happen all the time. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome are all designed for adults and are too complicated for children to use on their own. Parents can’t Google to find the best games for their children because Google’s search engine doesn’t understand the ways in which their child is currently developing or the implications of their child’s special needs. Google doesn’t know how to rank search results for your child based on the state and national educational standards. Even when parents leave their children alone on reputable childrens sites, their children are exposed to images and video advertisements for Viagra, the Playboy Bunnies, and violent video games that, thanks to these advertisements, are only a click away.
This is the reason why Mark Williamson founded Zoodles, and we have something really great to offer. Our service is designed to be simple and easy to use for both parents and children. All parents have to do is enter in their child’s birthdate and we help you select the best content for their age, making sure that all the games they play are both fun and educational. As your child gets older, Zoodles adjusts the games we recommend to them to help them develop the skills that they are currently learning. We have an educational team that helps us select the best of Nick Jr Games, PBS Kids Games, Disney Games, and National Geographic Kids Games. We also have games from some sites you probably haven’t thought to visit before, including the best of NASA Kids Games, StarFall Games, American Girl Games, Fact Monster Games, Nobel Prize Educational Kids Games etc etc (the list goes on and on).
Kids are happy because they are having fun. Parents are happy because their children are learning while playing independently. Content providers have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with young families. Best of all, everything I just mentioned is free! :D
Zoodles also offers some great premium features for parents that want to have a more proactive role in their child’s development. We help parents block ads, set time limits, adjust violence filters, and block the brands they might be getting sick of (eg Barney Games). Parents can even choose to promote educational subjects to help their child spend more time playing fun math games or fun reading games.
Parents and Teachers are excited that they can now review the educational merits of the games and brands that are available online. Content providers for the first time are able to quickly identify what skill sets their target demographic needs help learning and quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of their competition in that space.
We think Shrek can do a lot more for your children than sell Happy Meals.
There’s a huge opportunity ahead of us for brands to align with the interests of both parents and teachers. With so many brands to choose from, parents should have more control over which brands they welcome into their home, based on the quality of content coming from these characters.