Technology is coming to your children’s bedrooms
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show revealed a number of devices geared toward early childhood consumers. Most of the new offerings were aimed at delivering an experience for young users that tried to be both entertaining and educational.
Perhaps the biggest news for young consumers at CES came from Fuhu, which produces tablet computers for children. The company announced that it would be teaming up with DreamWorks Studios to release the DreamTab “with special cartoons, songs and apps from the DreamWorks library, along with apps like ‘Angry Birds’ and Cartoon Network games.”
Fuhu, which bills itself as a maker of “tablet computers utilizing full featured android based devices created especially for kids,” is among a growing sector of manufacturers churning out a whole range of products aimed at bridging the gap between toys and electronic devices meant for grown-up consumers. These new products fill a growing demand in the marketplace. Children are starting to use electronic devices and technology in greater amounts at younger ages. Parents reluctant to turn over their own devices to young hands are snapping up products like the tablet in record numbers.
These offerings geared toward children are generally more durable than devices created for their grown-up counterparts and offer a simpler user interface and scaled-down functionality all at a much lower price point than versions geared toward adults. They also offer parental controls, so parents can make sure their children stay safe online.
Fuhu sold 2 million of its tablets in 2013, up from 500,00 the year before. A recent survey by technology watchdog group Common Sense found the dramatic increase is indicative of a larger trend. Usage of technology among children as young as infants is significantly on the rise.
For example, tablet ownership among children ages 0 to 8 has increased five fold in the past three years, while usage among the youngest consumers is also increasingly exponentially. In 2011, only 10 percent of toddlers had ever used mobile devices. More recently, that number jumped to 38 percent. The vast majority are simply using the devices to play games, rather than to read books or watch videos.
Whether it’s for better or worse, the inundation of technology on childhood and adolescence is unavoidable. According to a survey by the Kaiser Foundation, media consumption among children ages 8 to 18 averages about 7.5 hours per day. That number is strictly devoted to entertainment media. Factoring in the use of technology in completing class assignments or extracurricular use, the number increases to about 10 hours and 45 minutes per day.
While introduction to technology at a young age can have significant advantages like encouraging analytical thought and processes, Gary Small, neuroscientist from UCLA and author of “I-Brain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,” argues in his book that basic skills like face-to-face human interaction, eye contact and emotional expression are eroding. While many experts agree that we are only in the early stages of beginning to answer questions regarding the long-term consequences of technology and media on a growing brain, most seem to think that moderation is key. Children should have some access to technology at a young age, but only in small amounts. It is then that they will begin to develop an inherent skill set that will help them navigate an increasingly complex technological world. There will be a burden of expectation on children as they grow older to possess a certain basic level of technical know-how from teachers, professors and eventually bosses.
It is up to parents to begin cultivating that skill set at a young age, but it should not come at the cost of eroding basic social behaviors, which are far more fundamental than any technical expertise.