When Web Time Is Playtime

With new services coming from companies like Lego and Disney that are aimed right at them, it might be wise to keep some glass cleaner nearby.

These services are increasingly social in nature, places where your children can interact with other children, and they are becoming a central part of the business plans of the people who make TV programs, toys and cereal.

Your child might get a plush toy bearing a code for a free gift on Neopets, or a gift card for a free month on Club Penguin. How can parents sort out the best options among these services? One trick is to think about how they make money.

Because of multimedia Web software and faster Internet access, there are now lots of sites that mix habit-forming games with ads. One is even called Addicting Games (www.addictinggames.com), and it is run by Viacom’s Nickelodeon division, a company that has a clear interest in attracting the minds and mouse clicks of children. The New York Times’ Warren Buckleitner reports