Fake Cards, Real Worries: Harmful Or Educational? Use Of Play Plastic In Game Of Life Divides Experts
By Kathleen Megan
October 4, 2007
If the thought of
your child using a Visa card - fake though it might be -
while playing a board game seems a bit unsettling, you're
Recently, the Game of Life issued a new "Twists and Turns" version that comes with a play Visa card and an electronic "pod" that it slips into for storage of a player's financial data. Last year, Monopoly came out with its "Here & Now" version of the more than 70-year-old game that features a credit card with no brand name.
Also found along the toy aisles are plastic debit and credit cards, though unbranded, to be used with toy cash registers and shopping carts, along with a Barbie "fashion fever" shopping play set that comes with a credit card.
While there can
be no argument that plastic has replaced cash as the
preferred means of payment for almost anything more than
about $20, not everyone is eager to have kids imitating
this adult behavior, particularly when the credit card
carries a brand name.
So what do experts have to say to parents who may be wondering about this as the holiday shopping season approaches?
"I think it's a great deal for Visa, and it's a lousy deal for children, especially when credit card debt is a major problem in the country," said Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. (About 70 percent of young adults in their 20s have credit cards with the average balance of debt at $4,929, according to a Northbrook, Ill., research company called Tru.)
"The idea of branding younger children with a credit card and a particular credit card is troubling," said Linn. Visa is banking on kids having "warm, fuzzy feelings" about Visa, she said, and on them nagging their parents to use Visa.
Both Visa and Hasbro insist this isn't the case and that their intent is only educational. Jason Alderman of Visa said that no money changed hands and that Hasbro approached Visa on the subject.
"We don't market to kids. We never have, we never will," said Alderman. Rather, he said, Visa saw this as an opportunity to promote financial education.
Noting that the game comes with a booklet and cards with real-life tips on handling money, Alderman said, "Lots of the materials are designed with parents in mind, with the idea of using the materials as conversation starters."
Pat Riso, spokesman for Hasbro Games, said the new Life game was already created when someone in marketing met up with someone from Visa and got to thinking about Visa's "Life Takes Visa" campaign and how it might be interesting if "our game of Life really did take Visa."
"It was a way to further contemporize the game for us," said Riso, who noted that the traditional versions of Life and Monopoly are still on the shelves.
Linn said Visa's claim that this is a way of teaching money management to kids "flies in the face of everything we know about young children and child development."
"Children are concrete thinkers - they need to be abstract thinkers to use credit cards successfully," said Linn. "The way for children to learn to use money is by using money: real cash."
Games with play money that have kids spend and make change do help children with money management, she said.
Stephanie Oppenheim, co-founder of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, an independent guide to toys, agrees.
Having the electronic tabulating system takes the math out of the games, said Oppenheim, "which is what's so valuable about it for kids."
"Most young children don't understand that a credit card means that you have to pay," she said. "If you ask most 7- and 8-year-olds, they think of a credit card as a magic card that you whip out and buy things with."
Thomas Schneider, a financial consultant in Farmington, said he can understand the critics' concerns about replacing play cash with play credit cards.
"As a parent, I can understand the mind-set," he said, "but as a financial planner, my head says that's the norm: That's where life is going. Everything is plastic."
Parents should educate kids about finances, whether it's cash or credit, he said, and these games offer that chance.
But all of this debate on the pros and cons of cash or credit in board games is beside the point, according to George Scarlett, deputy chairman of child development at Tufts University. "It makes me laugh the concerns people have about the content of children's play," said Scarlett. "I get it all the time: People are concerned about war play, sexist play ... "
Children's play, he said, is much more about "the passion they bring to it and the structural development of play" than it is about the particular items they are playing with.
In Monopoly, he said, the developmental achievement is working together to have a satisfying, competitive game, where kids get along through the wins and losses.
"Whether it's credit cards or Monopoly dollars is irrelevant," said Scarlett. "What really matters is whether the play itself is passionate."
To think that playing with a toy credit card at age 8 will somehow lead to misuse of credit cards as an adult is "a kind of voodoo magic kind of thinking," said Scarlett.
The introduction of a Visa card to the Game of Life is "just another instance of us being bombarded by advertising," said Scarlett.
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