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Modern Parenthood

Kids' online privacy rules take effect: What's at stake

Kids' online privacy rules get tougher today. But parents should still be aware of the ways corporate marketing efforts can target kids with everything from alcohol, tobacco, and violent video games to the more insidious micropayments that will sap your bank account.

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Violent Video Games: Take it from this former boy who grew up during the dawn of video games: if it bleeds, it succeeds.  

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Contributing blogger

James Norton got his professional start at the Monitor as an online news producer, before moving over to edit international news during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since leaving the Monitor in 2004, he has worked as a radio producer, author, and food blogger. 

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Playing violent video games has been linked to violent behavior and bullying, but the links are weak and reputable contrary studies exist. One thing nearly everybody can agree upon, however: The games are largely a massive waste of time. Oh, and that they may prevent crime by keeping otherwise crime-prone kids and young adults off the streets. The story of wasted time is defined by what the time-waster might otherwise be doing.

Micropayments: You want terrifying? Here's terrifying. There's an increasing trend for games to be marketed at a price that is low or free, and derive income from thousands of minor in-game purchases and/or auction sales made by players. The result is a "free" game that turns into a $75/month open wound on your checking account as your son or daughter purchases in-game gear for their imaginary in-game character. 

Alcohol, Guns, and Cigarettes: These three very adult products all have a vested interest in getting to the next generation as early as possible without tipping off any stick-in-the-mud parents and regulators. If you dig into these realms you'll find sweet, fruit-flavored "alcopops," colorful "my first gun" weapons, and candy cigarettes, among other gambits to pitch the under-18 (or under-21) set without triggering legal consequences.  (Of course, the argument about whether access to guns at a young age tends to teach gun safety or create gun-related deaths is still viable and ongoing.)

Jarts: These top-heavy, skull-piercing lawn darts actually haven't been sold since a Consumer Product Safety Commission ban in 1988, but they're a good example of what gets marketed and sold in a low-regulation environment: They're fun, they're sporty, they're potentially lethal. Libertarians might argue that a few seriously jarted kids is a small price to pay for a free society, but that's a long argument to be had somewhere else.

Actually, it's highly unlikely that your children will be targeted by ads for lawn darts, but still – be aware. Fun but deadly.

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