My almost-8 year old is a bit late to the world-of-webkinz and she's not even so sure about it, since she doesn't really know what it is, but it makes sense that she is curious and wants one since they are so coveted on the playground. As a parent prone to ranting and raving, I have probably added a bit of "forbidden fruit factor" to the mix. She knows I think they are dumb, and might be able to recite a few of my reasons but mostly she knows that mom won't buy them and that probably means they are fun. She's got resources in friends and extended family, so it is likely that she'll be a proud webkinz owner soon.
It is hard to know where to draw the line -- clearly webkinz are not dangerous and not worth a big fight. On the other hand, they are part of a larger force that entices kids online and into consumer culture without a lot of critical awareness. This article, from Commerical Free Childhood, explains my objections well. Yet I find the "what to do" ideas a little simplistic. It feels hard to engage my child in a conversation about the ethics of consumerism when she's still on the edge of early childhood and magical thinking. This is, of course, what makes them such a great product for marketers and so difficult for families -- when kids can sort-of believe that the pet lives or dies by the owner's web activity, the moral imperative to get online increases. When pretend play takes on all the reality of virtual technology the quality of that play changes. How can a young child navigate the border between pretend and real when that border is so blurred by new technology?
I'd love to hear the real-life strategies that other parents use.