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?