Is That Website Really Age Appropriate?
- Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Understanding the war in Iraq or the California recall election can be a little bit confusing to many adults. That being the case, try breaking it down so a child can understand it.
That's exactly what some websites work to do. As children grow more tech-savvy, they are increasingly going online to learn more about not only science, math, history and other studies they have in school, but also current events.
Some of the more popular websites for kids are spinoffs of magazines. Weekly Reader, Time for Kids, Nickelodeon and Scholastic News all have complimentary websites. Web portal Yahoo! produces another popular site for kids, Yahooligans! News.com. Channel One, the often-criticized television network found in public schools across America, also has a site for kids and teens.
National Geographic, long known for its striking photography and cultural exposes, produces a magazine and website for children.
Many of the websites focus on things that would interest children and teens, such as animals, games, popular current books, and entertainment.
However, some of them take things a step further, giving kids news of the day written in a manner they can comprehend. This is where parents should pay attention, because sometimes that message, whether in print or online, might be one they would rather teach children themselves.
Informing or Indoctrinating?
Brandy Solomon recently canceled two magazine subscriptions she had for her children, ages 4 and 10, because of stories in them regarding homosexual "families." According to Solomon, the September 2003 edition of Nick Jr. Magazine included an article on how parents should talk to their children about other children who might have a parent with a same-sex partner.
"The scenario [was], your seven-year-old asks, 'Why does Bailey have two moms?'" Solomon said. "The [suggested] response [was], 'Families come in all sizes and shapes. Family members love and care for each other,' because 'defining family by its function, not by structure, helps kids to think of family from a different perspective.'"
"I personally do not want my children thinking of family from any perspective other than what God ordained," Solomon said. "I also canceled their subscription to Disney For Kids for the same reason. Although the magazine itself is very good, it was recently brought to my attention that Disney is a firm supporter of 'gay' rights. Therefore, Disney will no longer get my support."
The messages magazines and television programs send to children have long been a point of concern for most parents. Now, parents must also maintain their guard on websites for children.
"Children are very impressionable," Tommy Fitzsimmons, a father of two from New York, told Fox News in a story on the subject. "You don't know what spin they are putting on something." According to the article, Fitzsimmons said his 11-year-old son was advised by a teacher to visit websites like WeeklyReader.com.
"My teacher says it's good to go on," Thomas Fitzsimmons, Jr. told Fox News. "I like it there."
Whether recommended by a teacher or anyone else, parents should make it a point to visit these websites and read these magazines first, and make sure their children are getting the messages the parents believe are in the children's best interest.
A review by the American Family Association (AFA) of a few of the most popular websites geared toward children actually found very little to be alarmed about. However, as this review only focused on one recent month's content, parents should be careful about what content these websites carry, and should not treat these reviews as endorsements of the websites.
WeeklyReader.com is fairly light on content, but offers links to several other publications for teens. One of the links is to Teen Newsweek, a magazine from its namesake geared toward teenagers. A common approach to the news for several websites is to get children and teens to think about the stories they are reading, and discuss them with their parents.
In this case, Teen Newsweek featured an article on the aftermath of the war in Iraq. The article is presented as "Learning with Newsweek" and urges parents to "talk with their children about the news." However, while parents might think their children are reading an unbiased article on the war, the story is clearly a very liberally slanted analysis on the war.
For parents wanting their children to be able to learn about current events, this would not be the best place to start. While the story does focus on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, its writer, Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, makes several pointed jabs and suggests the war and the subsequent occupation have been "a massive enterprise undertaken with little planning and extreme arrogance."
That was really the only point of concern AFA found with any of the websites. That is not to say, though, parents should be less diligent. While AFA Journal did visit the Nick Jr. Magazine website, the September issue, with the aforementioned story on homosexual "families," hadn't been posted by deadline.
Scholastic Inc.'s Scholastic News Zone website appeared to give kids the best alternative for recent news, and the content from the week of September 1 appeared not only well-written (for children) but also fairly unbiased. That week's stories included features on the California recall election and on high gasoline prices. In this same edition, though, the site features a story on young rapper Bow Wow. While the interview itself is very innocuous, some parents might want to talk to their children about who they look up to as entertainers, especially in light of the recent Kobe Bryant scandal.
One website for children many parents might not be aware of is God's World News, the website spinoff of World magazine. As a widely respected news magazine with a Christian founding and background, World produces a website parents should be comfortable letting their children visit. The site features publications for children in downloadable portable document file (pdf) format.
Whichever magazines and websites parents feel most appropriate for their children, it remains a wise idea to keep an eye on the content. With websites, the content can change in an instant, but the messages they send impressionable children can remain with them for a lifetime.
Jason Collum, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a staff writer for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared originally in the October 2003 issue.
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