This time my daughter came home from school in tears. The minute she entered the house they made their escape like a torrent of rain gushing down the Connecticut River. These were the kind of tears that, once they got started, they wouldn’t stop. I tried to get it out of her but she just wasn’t talking. I don’t think she could, considering how hard she was crying. Of course, as a mother, the unthinkable ran through my mind. When she finally composed herself enough to speak her father and I were shocked by what she said. My husband and I just looked at each other. I could see him struggling not to laugh and knew we were thinking the same thing. She told us that neo-pets were hacking into the Webkinz world website and murdering Webkinz pets!
My daughter and her friends had been caught up in this fad for quite some time now. For at least a year they had been collecting stuffed animals that came attached with a code. The code is used to adopt a digital replica of the purchased animal. She could play with and take care of her sixty-two pets on a site called Webkinz World. There was a rumor circulating among her friends that Neo-pets (a rival toy) were on the prowl and thought to be responsible for the deaths of many beloved Webkinz pets.
Her father and I spent hours trying to explain that Webkinz World was run by a lot of people whose main goal was to provide a safe environment for kids to play. These same people get paid to run, monitor and update the site regularly. If anything was amiss they would know and would work very hard to stop these kinds of things from happening.
I sat with her at the computer and together we combed the internet for information. We searched for any information we could find and managed to find a statement in the parents section on the site itself. The statement explained how rumors get started and that it was just that, a rumor. Despite our efforts she had worked herself up so much that we just didn’t seem to be getting through. Who would have thought we would have to put so much work into convincing our child that her online pets were not going to die? When we finally did get through to her, I could see the relief on her face as the tears began to subside. The truth made her incredibly happy and she said that she was going to tell all of her friends what she had learned.
Watching my daughter’s world come to an end made me realize just how susceptible kids are to influence by their peers. When they are small, children look to their parents for guidance, but the older they get the more they look to members of their own age group for clues as to who they should be or how they should behave. At some point all children must break the ties that bind them to their parents and begin the journey of self discovery. However; lack of experience in combination with still developing brains makes it difficult for a child to find reason in the unreasonable while adults have learned over time to take what they hear with a grain of salt. What may seem trivial to an adult can appear catastrophic to a kid. They are influenced so much so that (to them) it really seems that there is no way out. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if the rumor had been something more serious.