Kids and Technology: A Perfect Pairing?

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 @ 04:13 PM

It was a long, strange week in Las Vegas.  Normally that sentence wouldn’t have anything to do with YouthBeat®, but last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) changed all that.

Two relevant media stories set the stage.  First, Apple was challenged by two of its investors to consider their responsibility in preventing or ameliorating the risk of technology addiction in young people.  Increasingly, studies are showing that too much technology time is detrimental to youth—their sleep, their classroom performance, their emotions, and their overall well-being.  Second, VTECH was fined $650,000 for a Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violation.  Their Kid Connect app originally did not obtain adequate parental permission before allowing the collection of personally identifiable information from child users (but that has since been updated).  Because of these stories, the national discourse, then, centered on the risks of technology use by youth.

Juxtaposed against this, the exhibitors at CES unveiled some of the most cutting-edge new technologies for kids—and even infants.  Some of them begged the question about where the line might be drawn between the benefits and risks of digital devices.  A key benefit of many of the products for the youngest kids is giving parents a greater sense of control.  And these aren’t all Millennial parents, some of the oldest of Generation Z (like Kylie Jenner, if the rumors are true) are now becoming young parents. Gen Z, having been raised during the recession, is already known to be savvy as consumers, gritty in their attitudes, and appreciative of control when the world seems tumultuous. 

In our YouthBeat®, Jr. survey, the youngest parents (ages 18-34) say that “to be safe and healthy” is the most important thing for their child right now (64%*).  These brands and their devices are ready to help young parents achieve that sense of control over their children’s health and safety:

  • Burabi’s formula making machine precisely mixes formula and water, at a precise temperature, to ensure the bottle is filled with exactly what the parents intend. Foolproof!
  • Monkey’s smart “threadable” devices (for placing on shoes or hair ties) transmit a signal to an app on the parent’s device, alerting parents if children wander outside of a designated radius from the parent. No more wandering off at the park—or theme park!  And a great licensing opportunity for the right brand.
  • Orig3n’s DNA testing kits aren’t just for ancestry anymore. Their Child Development kit allows a parent to swab thechild’s mouth, send in the swab, and learn about genetic factors that can help predict areas where the child may excel or struggle in school, their probable aptitude for a variety of sports, and possible health and dietary concerns for which to watch out.

And then there was a lot of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for parents that could change the very nature of the way parents interact with their infants and toddlers.  In a way, today’s young children may never know what it’s like to be “alone.”  Of note:

  • The ZIB-1S intelligent robot is a smart baby monitor/speaker that recognizes the sound of an infant’s cry, and can alert the parent over WeChat, or tell a story to the child. As the child ages, the device becomes more of a teacher, helping with dates, math, and other topics.
  • Project Nursery has a Smart Baby Monitor system leveraging the existing Amazon Alexa, allowing a parent to remotely gauge the temperature of the nursery, have Alexa time a baby’s nap, or tell the child a story.
  • The Cocoon Cam (billed as the “Tesla of baby monitors”) allows two-way communication between the nursery and parent—and, unlike other smart baby monitors, requires no wearables on the infant. Instead, the monitor uses a camera to monitor the child’s breathing, and sends alerts to parents as needed.

Probably the most exciting devices for kids would be the augmented reality (AR) products (and YouthBeat® is curious about how many of these will pop up at Toy Fair next month too):

  • Square Panda’s series of toys uses apps and manipulatives to bridge the digital and physical divide. YouthBeat® has seen academic research showing that similar multisensory technology helps children learn better and interact with others more, versus simply playing with an app.
  • Similarly, Pai Technology’s apps leverage physical components as well. YouthBeat®’s favorite of their offerings is Ocean Pets, in which children mold colorful clay into fish designs, then scan them into an AR story under the sea.
  • Neobear’s MAGNEO is a handheld device housing their range of AR apps which interact with a variety of products: Flashcards bring zoo animals to life, a globe provides cultural information on a range of countries, and most interesting to YouthBeat®, the ability to scan in children’s drawings and manipulate the designs just by passing colorful objects in front of the sensor.
  • Octagon’s free app that brings flashcards to life on the topics of the human body, outer space, animals, dinosaurs, and more. YouthBeat®’s favorite is the Humanoid 4D+ deck—it’s medical school in a packet!

It was clear to YouthBeat® that the creators of these products genuinely like children—and parents—and want to use technology to improve their lives.  The Apple and VTECH events possibly couldn’t have occurred at a better time, to remind inventors that “real” life is still valuable, even fragile at times.  As an industry, we can’t produce technology just because it’s possible. Its positive impact on youths’ lives needs to outweigh any risks to which it may expose them.  We challenge our partners to take up that mantle and create safe and enriching devices and content for children.

*Source: YouthBeat®, Jr., September 2017

Tags: kids tweens teens, trends, YouthBeat, youth marketing, 2018 trends, kids tweens teens market research, technology