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When your child wants to register a toy online

Our kids are like most kids in one way at least.  They get presents or toys that offer some sort of online registration.  I shied away from that a while ago, but after going through it a number of times, I realize that it’s important to do for several reasons.

  1. It supports the child’s innate curiosity and desire to play with their toy in new and fun ways.
  2. It keeps them involved with the toy so their interest in it lasts longer.
  3. And it’s a rare moment when they’ll hopefully want you to help guide them in what to do online.

Even if they don’t want your help, It’s still a good idea to be involved in this.  And, if they don’t want your help, you can give them some ideas for why it’s a good to help, for instance:

  • You want to make sure you can help them answer any questions that come up.
  • You want to help them understand what questions are appropriate or not to answer, and why.
  • You would like them to help teach you how this works.
  • I always believe it’s good to be honest and straightforward and mention that sometimes there are people online that aren’t as friendly as you’d like and that it’s a really good idea to make sure that we don’t tell anything about who we are or where we live because we don’t know to whom this information is going.

I recently had a couple of chances to work with one of my kids on registering online.  First was a Beanie Baby that encourages the kids to register their animal online.  I was really impressed with their system in that I felt like it really cared for children and didn’t try to get a bunch of personal, identifying information from them.

For Ty, we went to the site and after entering the Beanie Baby code and finding the right Beanie baby, we were presented with a registration screen like this:

When I first got here, I was a bit nervous about entering my child’s first name and birth date as I don’t think that’s really a good idea, but, as long as you can keep information separate and anonymous, I believe it’s ok.  So, here, I entered a birth date that was close to the real one and the name of the American Girl doll that my child gave her.

Next, I got this screen:

On this page, I made up a random username and password and then I have an anonymous Gmail address that I used here.  This is one that’s registered to me and that only I check.

After this point, it gets to be a bit more fun for the child.  They get to name their Beanie Baby and choose its gender.

Then, we got a screen with appropriate information on how Ty views online safety with an approval check box and a place for the parent’s email address.  In this field, I used the same email address I used above for the Child’s email address as I want all communication coming to me.

After registering, I got an email about Ty.com’s “Freestyle Chat” feature which is interesting and it really sounds like they’ve put in some good protections for kids here:

In Beanies 2.0 World kids can chat, play games and so much more.  They can make friends online and meet and interact in Basic Chat (our original chat area) or our Freestyle Chat (which is completely separate).

Within our Basic Chat feature, members can choose only from pre-selected words and phrases and CANNOT type in their own messages.  This is the safest way for kids to chat, and no parental permission is needed to visit Basic Chat.

In our Freestyle Chat, members can type their own messages.  To make it as safe as possible (safer than a completely open chat area) members of Freestyle Chat can only type in words from our restricted dictionary.  In this dictionary, we’ve removed all numbers, common names and place names, as well as a variety of inappropriate words and phrases.

When a member tries to use a word that isn’t in our dictionary, the word will not appear in the message.

All in all, I think Ty has done a great job of putting a system in place that protects children.  I was pleased that I could make up information and use my generic email address for them and for me and have the option to opt out of chat features.  They have a great Parent Resource in their Privacy Policy in addition to an emergency contact form to report objectionable material that one might find on the site.

Another company I was pleased with was American Girl.  They had a somewhat similar registration process and had an opportunity for your child to build a profile for their doll based on how they think the doll feels about herself.  But, the questions were completely innocent and non-identifying, like do they like to read books or go for hikes.  They also had quizzes to see how well your child has read up on their doll.

They also have a great parent resource that seems to cover most anything a parent could ever worry about. So, when you’re next registering a toy or product for your children, keep in mind several things.

  1. Make sure they have a really good privacy policy.
  2. Make sure they have tools in place to protect your children’s privacy to your satisfaction.
  3. Make sure they have clear opt-out features.
  4. Make sure you can enter information that isn’t going to connect you or your child to the site in a way that can be tracked.  Meaning, keep your information anonymous.
  5. Don’t be afraid of registering online, but do make sure it’s a site that is safe.
  6. Put your kids first.

I’d love to hear more ideas about how you talk to your kids about this in the comments.

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