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The Good And Bad Of Tech Toys For Kids

tech toys

Tech Toys

If you’re like me it’s not too early to think about what to get your child for Christmas.  At six my daughter is starting to show what her real interests are and I like to observe her likes and what she finds fascinating and use that information to decide what would make a good gift. We no longer go into a buying frenzy after Thanksgiving, getting her everything under the sun and see what happens.  We want her to be prepared to pursue whatever stimulates her intellect.

New York Toy Fair

The New York Toy Fair that was held a few weeks ago, is a great place to get an advance look at those Tech Toys you’re considering for next holiday season. Tech toys for kids have been gaining ground the last couple of years and will only gain more popularity moving forward. Some of these cool tech toys should make it on your own Santa list because they’re so cool. But beware, some can be a little creepy and a bit too personal.

The great “tech toys” are simply logical extensions of technology you’re begging to use yourself.  They will help your kids be light years ahead of where you were when you were their age!

The new stuff is the industry’s way of helping people:

  • Think of robots as our friends
  • Live in an AR/VR/MR (augmented, virtual, mixed reality) world
  • Find out that the more information you give “them,” the more they know about you

When I Was Your Age…

Today is nothing like when you and I were growing up. When we were bored, our folks told us to do either A or B.  

A) go watch TV or

B) go play outside. 

Going out was our choice most of the time, whether prevailing.  It was fun to let trouble find us.  And when it did it was never our fault!.

I’ve said I’d never use the same line my parents did …”kids have it so easy these days!”  The truth is they really do.  They have slim computers, tablets, and smartphones almost from the beginning – even though parents may put some restrictions on how long they use the devices and the sites they can visit.  The point is they have been connected at an early age so things, like navigating devices or performing searches are literally child’s play for them.  I remember teaching computer basics to adults 30 years ago.  What was difficult for them to understand is nothing for today’s four yr old. When my generation was in school and needed to research something they looked to a set of Encyclopedia’s that were outdated shortly after they were printed.  Or we spent hours in the public library researching our homework.  Today a number of resources that are literally at the fingertips of young students would have been unimaginable back then.

Yesterday’s Adults vs Today’s Kids

I remember teaching computer basics to adults 30 years ago.  What was difficult for them to understand is nothing for today’s four yr old. When my generation was in school and needed to research something they looked to a set of Encyclopedia’s that were outdated shortly after they were printed.  Or we spent hours in the public library researching our homework.  Today a number of resources that are literally at the fingertips of young students would have been unimaginable back then.

The point is they have been connected at an early age so things, like navigating devices or performing searches are literally child’s play for them.  I remember teaching computer basics to adults 30 years ago.  What was difficult for them to understand is nothing for today’s four yr old. When my generation was in school and needed to research something they looked to a set of Encyclopedia’s that were outdated shortly after they were printed.  Or we spent hours in the public library researching our homework.  Today a number of resources that are literally at the fingertips of young students would have been unimaginable back then. We don’t call kids “digital natives” for nothing.

Tech Savvy Kids

Today kids are Internet users before they can walk. The age when they get a smartphone is becoming younger and younger.

“Mobile Kids – Parents are giving their children a smartphone at an earlier and earlier age so they can stay in touch with them for their security and for other uses.”

“eMarketer estimates that 11.0 million children under 12 in the US will own a mobile phone and use it at least monthly this year, as will 22.1 million 12- to 17-year-olds.

Influence Central’s report “Kids & Tech” notes that:

  • The average child gets his/her first smartphone at 10.3 years

  • 55 percent of the kids prefer to use tablets during car rides (looking at the scenery is so yesterday)

  • 64 percent have access to the Internet with their own laptop or tablet

  • 39 percent have a social media account by 11.4 years, 11 percent before age 10

  • 76 percent access the Net in the same room with the folks but that’s down from 85 percent in 2012

  • 24 percent access the Net in their bedrooms, compared to 5 percent in 2012″

“Entertainment Tools – Kids were born connected today and the digital natives don’t seem to care how they get their entertainment – TV, tablet, smartphone.  In fact, many of them use all three of the communications/viewing devices at the same time.”

A Tool Or Toy?

All this connectivity is intended to help kids with school work and advance their education. You do know that they also watch their favorite content as well, right?

All this connectivity is intended to help kids with school work and advance their education. You do know that they also watch their favorite content as well, right?

At the end of last year, Nielsen noted that kids 2-11 years old averaged 19 hours 15 minutes of live/time-shifted video content. While TV was the first choice for 67 percent of the kids, that number dropped 13% from 2014. In a PwC study, kids spent 15.5 hours consuming media with over half of it (53 percent) streamed (bad news for traditional TV).

And when it came to short videos – YouTube and now Facebook Video, 53 percent used their smartphones and 32 percent used laptops. In addition, they increasingly play “educational games” like Minecraft and other “reward” challenges on the devices.

“Digital Tools – Youngsters learn to multitask early using their phones, tablets, and computers for education and entertainment.  It’s becoming more difficult for parents to get them to disconnect. “

Is This Good for kids?

The Director of Neuroscience at UCLA, Dr. Peter Whybrow calls our device screens “electronic cocaine,” Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin”.  The head of Addiction Research at the Pentagon refers to them as “digital pharmakeia”, which is Greek for “a drug”.

Maybe that’s why you’ll find the kids of Silicon Valley bosses and engineers at low-tech, no-tech private schools like Waldorf or Montessori or similar institutions.  Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs set limits with their children. This included no-tech sit-down dinners, which I have recently imposed on our daughter.

Our handheld devices, as well as the new toys that were introduced at the New York Toy Fair, are not inherently evil. Potential problems can be avoided if parents have a serious sit-down talk with their kids that drives home the point that too much of a good thing or anything for that matter is not good.  Let “moderation” be the life lesson.

Smart Tech Toys

The New York Toy Fair introduced some pretty cool stuff to consider as long as parents understand that supervision and limitations have to be observed.  And this cool stuff comes with a few risks which will talk about later.

BB-8

One of the coolest items at the Fair was BB-8 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The little guy responds to some select voice commands and uses sensors to follow you around. He is a lot of fun and a great way to introduce your child’s understanding that robots are not like the Terminator and can be more like a friend. BB-8 wasn’t alone at the Toy Fair. 

There was a lot to consider for next Christmas.  Robots and robot kits that introduce youngsters to engineering and programming skills.  Powerful STEM skills for the future. 

 

  


Teddy Ruxpin

This year’s version of “everyone’s favorite talking teddy bear”, Teddy Ruxpin, was there as well. Teddy Ruxpin has 40 animated expressions, a motorized mouth, LCD eyes and touch sensors. Teddy balances education with fun. With 10 preloaded adventure tales as well as additional downloadable stories he can tell to your kids. At $99, he is a pretty reasonable babysitter for multi-tasking parents who don’t always have time to read to their kids. The possible danger is when someone figures out how to hack him and give him some new adventures to share. This has happened already! Other cuddly teddy bears were at the Toy Fair too.  Some even smarter and more interactive with connectivity to the internet, which makes them susceptible to hacking.


Hello Barbie Hologram

What little girl wouldn’t want the latest Barbie … the “Hello Barbie Hologram”? She is Mattel’s version of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri.  Ask her things and she answers. Tell her to remember things, done. She learns as she goes, much like your child.

You can be certain Mattel learned from their earlier Hello Barbie experience. She was capturing and sending a bunch of data so the company could better meet the wants and needs of the kids. They also found only out there were a few security holes that could be exploited by Hackers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


VTech Educational Tech Toy

VTech learned a lot from last year’s hacking adventure when more than 6.4 million kid’s had their account information stolen. Name, gender, birth dates,  IP addresses and more were compromised. The new child-safe, “walled garden” solution gives the children using these tech toys an ecosystem that’s a lot like you will find with the iPad or Amazon Fire.  As the kids get older they can go outside the VTech ecosystem and message or browse the web and do things with their parent’s supervision. The robust rubber bumpers on VTech tablets aren’t as sleek as the iPad; but with adult supervision, this tech toy can send text messages. And since it has a swivel 2MP camera as well as 8GB of onboard storage, they can send photos and images to friends also. If you need more storage you can add up 32GB of microSD card storage.

 


VR/AR/MR

Just because a gazillion HMDs (head mounted displays) haven’t sold along with billion’s of games and movies right now, does not mean VR/AR/MR are a failure.  This industry is till finding its legs.

At The Show

Our friend and fellow blogger Andy Marken who attended the New York Toy Fair tells us;

“We saw some fantastic trailers of the stuff that is coming out this year at Sundance. We’ve seen the breath-taking work that Lucas Wilson, of SupersphereVR; Fred Beahm, of SplicedFilms; Nick Bicanic, of RVLVRLabs; Lewis Smithingham, of 30Ninjas; and other creatives have mastered the new visual storytelling techniques. Mark Poppin, at BabelTech Reviews; and pixel researcher Jon Peddie keep telling me the new VR games will keep you immersed in the action for hours. Like the VR films, it’s never the same thing twice!

So obviously, VR was big at the NY Toy Fair! Uncle Milton and Sakar were just two of the firms that announced products that let kids slip into a virtual world to have fun, enhance their education and give them new ways of thinking and viewing the world around them.

The Discovery line already comes with a selection of 360 apps and all of the manufacturers said they’re busy ramping up, even more adventures, and opportunities for the holiday.

Pricing

The funny thing is the Toy Fair folks had their HMDs priced around the $50 mark; which is a whole lot cheaper than Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, HTC Vive and the myriad of other options that are out there for “adults.

The category that has made me reassess how big the AR (augmented reality) is going to be was the proliferation of AR stuff for kids.

AliveLab was just one of dozens of firms that showed off an array of AR things – 20 masks, 4 coloring books, 3 sticker books, 5 storybooks.

Everyone at the fair said the same thing, “Pokemon Go legitimatized AR in the younger generation.”

We get it!

VR/AR/MR leveraged technology will be an integral part of a youngster’s educational experience as well as play a major role in their play time.  Our little ones can grow up with a world of new friends in entirely different environments that only they know!

Air Hog

But the tech toy that dad would like (to help his youngster)  has got to be the Air Hogs DR1 FPV Drone, with a VR headset. We’re talkin’ super cool microdrone that includes a controller and a VR headset! Control it with your smartphone. You can fly and maneuver at blazing speeds.

The Air Hog’s camera streams live video to the headset. This gives you the pilot’s view of the world.  Caution, if you’re afraid of heights.


Security, Privacy, and Protections For Tech Toys

Smart tech toys are projected to be an 8.8 billion dollar business by 2020. Kids are growing up connected and parents are looking for the next great educational tech plaything. This is a big leap of faith for most parents because their kids’ safety and privacy are a paramount concern. In the U.S., we have the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and many countries have very strict regulations and protections in place. These agencies pay close attention to tech toys hackability, information gathering, and data usage.

Before the New York Toy Fair, Germany advised parents to ditch “My Friend Carla” because unlike most tech toys, this one was asking youngsters personal questions like what are your favorite shows or toys and then turn around and sell that information to whoever might find it useful.

Wooho

Woobo, the company that stores data so it can learn to be a voice assistant for your child, is walking a fine line. The screen face, touch sensor, and microphone in combination with AI learn how to talk to your kids. It uses AI to learn how to process what is said. The company says it is the same thing Alexa and Siri do. Of course, Amazon and Apple are not targeting impressionable and trusting children.

Woobo will abide by COPPA regulations and delete the recordings within 30 days. Eventually (they hope), the AI learning will be so good it won’t need to store any of your child’s responses.

The makers of tech toys say that parents don’t mind these toys watching and checking in on their kids as long as they know about it. In the meantime, they’re going to build in safeguards, add robust security and be very transparent with parents.

Tell us about your favorite tech toys and any good or bad experiences you had in the comments below.

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