By Michele Rosen
Let me preface this by saying that I don't have kids. But it seems to me, from visiting a number of sites that claim to be "kid-friendly" that many of them are not really offering anything that will drag young children away from the television set. I went looking for sites that were animated, contained bright colors, used simple vocabulary, and presented information on topics of interest to children. I had a hard time finding them.
My search began at Yahooligans! for Kids (www.yahooligans.com), a site maintained by the company that runs the Yahoo! search engine. The Yahooligans! page looks similar to the Yahoo! home page, although the graphics are more cartoon-like. For those who haven't used Yahoo!, the site classifies all the Web sites it indexes into categories, which grow more specific as you click through the site. The main categories on Yahooligans! are: Around the World; Art Soup; Computers, Games, and Online; Entertainment; School Bell; Science and Oddities; Sports and Recreation; and The Scoop. First of all, parents should be aware that not all sites linked from Yahooligans! contain G-rated information. When I looked recently at the home page of the Warner Bros. TV Page (www.tv.warnerbros.com), for example, the first link I saw was "Supermodel Cindy Margolis Is The "Sexiest Woman Online" - Only in EXTRA!" Yahooligans! does provide links to many sites that seem like they should be oriented toward children - sites run by Disney and Warner Bros., for example.
But some sites that seem like they would be kid-friendly really aren't. I was amazed to find that many of the pages on Disney's TVPlex site (www2.disney.com/DisneyTelevision/index.html) contained long, written descriptions of the TV shows, rather than pictures or links to fun games. Even the Beanie Babies home page (www.ty.com), which at first glance seems to be oriented toward young children, with big fonts and lots of bright pictures, contains the following description: "The Beanie Connection is Ty's official communications forum. Register today and become an official member within 10 minutes! Why not? It's free!" Official communications forum? Maybe I'm insulting the intelligence of six year olds, but that doesn't seem like the best use of vocabulary to draw them in.
I'm not saying there aren't any sites out there for young children. I am saying that many sites that say they're for young children are really oriented toward older kids. Because it's important for young children to have a good first impression of computers and the Internet, it seems that more work needs to be done in this area. For now, parents may want to stick to CD-ROMs for their youngest kids.