I’m in a bit of a pickle. A few months ago, I stumbled across a story about a new corporate-sponsored theme park (aren’t they all?) in Florida. I’ve refrained from blogging about it because I’m not sure what I think about it. Here are the details:
Wannado City, as it is called, offers 3- to 13-year-olds a “taste of the grown-up world” by offering them the opportunity to try out more than 100 professions. For instance, a child could pilot a Spirit Airlines jet, write an article as a Miami Herald reporter, bottle Coca-Cola, or soar to great heights in flight simulators from Spirit Airlines.
For their efforts, the kids earn Wongas, which can be deposited in a State Farm bank account and spent on cookies, rock climbing, or carnival rides. According to the article, which was written by Caroline E. Mayer, “the theme park aggressively courts brand-name firms as sponsors, giving companies an opportunity to reach out to children and their parents in hopes of turning their Wannado enthusiasm into can-do spending.”
On one hand, I think it’s a pretty cool deal. I know from my ex-kindergarten teaching wife that role-playing is a very important thing for a child’s development, and it’s a primary way for a kid to figure out how she relates to the world around her. I would have loved the opportunity to pilot a flight simulator as a kid, or produce a show on Cartoon Network (although my parents would probably remind me that I’d be too scared to try.)
But part of me agrees with Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and the author of “Consuming Kids,” who said:
“It’s one more step that corporations are taking to insinuate themselves into the fabric of our lives. The fact that role-playing is taking place in a shopping mall is also very troubling.”
I’d never hinder a kid’s desire for make-believe, but childhood seems to be growing increasingly shorter and I get antsy at any thought of pushing children into adulthood any sooner than need be. Check out Kim’s recent post, Cramming for Kindergarten for a case in point. (And for the record, if you’re one of those people pushing 30 and you still live with your parents, it’s time to move out. Now.)
I’d love to hear what people think about this theme park. I guess if I had to take sides, I’d say that I think it’s a good thing for kids overall. It’s hard to argue against flight simulators.
But can we all just be really, really careful and a little more mindful of letting kids be kids?
I wasn’t able to read the article (the link no longer works; perhaps too much time’s gone by?), but I do remember reading about this place a few years ago in some magazine. I think I’m much more bothered by the fact that they ‘aggressively court’ brand-name firms as sponsors, so that these companies can market to the kids while they’re there playing. It just seems like there’s hardly any place one can go where you (or your kids) aren’t marketed to.
Re: the park itself, I think I would have to make a field trip and check it out first hand to decide one way or the other. Depending on how it’s done, it could be a wonderful thing … but again, I really do think we just have to see for ourselves, play with flight simulator, etc. Anybody wanna come along?
Hmmm…that’s how long it took me to finally post on this place––the news link is now expired, two days after I wrote the post! That’s what I get for procrastinating. Oh well, at least the link to Wannado is active.