BarbieGirls.comA New York Times article this week by kids’ software guru Warren Buckleitner, “When Web Time is Playtime,” will frighten you at least a little with a look into the growing number of big-time companies running children’s pay sites on the Web.

What’s scary about these sites is the way they lure kids into bugging their parents to pay for “deluxe” services after they’ve gotten hooked on the basic look and feel of the sites. Here’s a description of the retooled Barbie Girls site, one of the sites that was expressly designed from the beginning as a moneymaker:

Later this month, BarbieGirls will be retooled in this way. Last year the site required the purchase of a Barbie MP3 player for access to certain content, an idea that has been abandoned. In the new version, children will be able to get in free and chat with others, dress up their on-screen dolls and decorate a room. But a collection of some games and fashion items will be off limits unless they become a V.I.P. player, which requires cash. V.I.P.’s are distinguished from the other Barbies by their sparkling tiaras.

I hoped that not too many girls are lured astray by the site. Even if they’re not, though, the big successes of gaming sites like Worlds of Warcraft for adults is logically leading companies to supply kids’ game-and-fun sites on a by-the-month basis. Both boys and girls will beg Mom and Dad to join.

Will these sites affect how we see kids using the public PCs in libraries? I think there’s a pretty good chance they will, so if you spot any of the sites mentioned in this article on the kids’ screens, you’ll know that there may well be an “I’m better than you because my Mom paid for me to have a tiara” ethic going to work.