Youth, Apps and Technology: A Sn”app”shot

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 @ 02:50 PM

Apps are unquestionably ubiquitous today, even among toddlers, with 6 in 10 2-year-olds possessing the ability to use them.* It’s not a surprise that they have this skill set. They easily put that skill to practice by handling their parents’ smartphones as well as tablets. For older youth, 4 in 10 of them own their own tablets, as do half of tweens. Even more tweens (6 in 10) own their own cell phones, as do 8 in 10 teens.** And having their own devices only increases youth’s exposure to the world of apps.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the nature of an app. We at YouthBeat® think of an app as a window to the content producer’s toolset, storyline, and/or imagination. Some, such as YouTube, Netflix, or Google (YouTube for grown-ups), are clearinghouses for further connections.  Others, like ABC Mouse or Minecraft, direct young users to specific creative, educational, and/or entertaining content.

In what seems like an infinite pool of available apps designed for youth, they’re not all created equal. Some are purely academic. In our YouthBeat® Trendspotter, we’ve written about apps that parents can use to link to their children’s classrooms, like ClassDojo and Seesaw, that allow teachers to upload notifications and grades to facilitate communication with parents. Others, like Angry Birds (still a Top 5 favorite with kids**) are purely for entertainment. Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat are Top 5 favorites with tweens and teens**who want to stay connected to peers. **

But some apps are more controversial. For example, Bravo Kids Media has drawn criticism from the Endangered Bodies International Campaign for releasing an app called Beauty Clinic Plastic Surgery, in which players perform “operations” on patients to enhance their looks. Endangered Bodies contends that this fosters the notion that one’s natural beauty may not be good enough, and that plastic surgery may be the answer. At YouthBeat®, we do see that self-acceptance is still an issue for youth, particularly girls.More than 1 in 10 tween and teen girls want to change something about their face, and the same proportion of each cohort wishes to be prettier/more attractive.**

OUR POV:

Our experience is that people who create apps for children generally do it because they want to entertain or otherwise enrich children’s lives. That doesn’t mean they thoroughly think through the ramifications of their content. We advise clients to vet their content with experts, parents, and when appropriate, youth, before release, in order to “first, do no harm.”

*Source: YouthBeat® Jr., Fall 2017
**Source: YouthBeat®, Jul-Dec 2017

Tags: youth marketing, youth research, technology, smartphones, apps, kids tweens teens market research, kids

A Softer, Gentler Toy Fair

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Tue, Mar 06, 2018 @ 01:59 PM

Toy Fair 2018 was last week in New York, and was a pleasant surprise to YouthBeat (who is led by a somewhat tech-wary adult).  We’re excited to share some of the themes we noticed:

  • Everything Isn’t Electronic
    • Sure, there were amazing drones and robotics and remote-controlled cars and coding-based games, but they didn’t dominate the trade floor as they did in 2017.
    • Plenty of blocks, plushes, board games, and other traditional books and toys are still available for toy stores to purchase and stock. Check out Surprizimals, the mystery plush that is collectible.
    • Bubble Paws are our favorite new product from the convention—children (or adults) don plastic “animal paws” with holes embedded, dip them in bubble solution, and swipe the air to make a bubble frenzy!
  • Bracelet Comebacks
    • In an era where “A” for “Arts” has been left out of STEM, YouthBeat was delighted to see a range of materials for child self-expression—in the form of bracelets, just when we thought we were long overdue for a wrist trend.
    • Some new products that sparked our interested is the Kudo Banz product: Child-driven wearable rewards. Here’s how it works:
      • Children wear the band and earns rewards of their choosing throughout the day.
      • Once they earn three rewards, parents get notifications on their phone through the connected app and they can bestow extra gifts like extended story time at night.
    • Other companies like Frogsac are offering jewelry, charms, pins, and patches to help kids create a pastiche of self-expression.
    • Another of our favorite new products is Flow Rings. They offer glitzy, kinetic fun in the form of bracelets.
  • Fantastical Fun
    • In a world where active shooter drills and politics on the TV can seem scary, safe and fun playful fantasy still abide for young children.
    • This year turned up many unicorn items as well as sparkly, glittery toys and play items. You can even buy a unicorn Pillow Pet!
    • Leading this trend, Glitter Girls dolls include “glitter on every bow and shoe.”
  • Gross Goings-On
    • Along the fantastical theme, children still enjoy the humor in bodily functions and external snotty, slimy vibes. These are developmentally necessary, helping kids see and test social limits, as well as express irreverence that isn’t yet the rebelliousness of teenhood.  Plus, a gross surprise is unexpected and fun!
    • From the makers of Slimeball (“Slime or Be Slimed!) comes Skunkball (extend your paddle rally or be “Skunked!”)
    • Hog Wild: “Throwing Stuff that Sticks since 1996” poppers have been popular around the YouthBeat office. Watch out or you’ll get popped!
  • Parent Pertinent
    • Many toys, especially those converging digital and tactical elements, espouse “purposeful play.” It’s good to see digital designers creating products and apps not just because they can, but because they will have real developmental benefits for children.  Similar to what YouthBeat saw at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, tangible and physical elements are complementing digital ones in new toy offerings.
    • For Millennial parents who value sustainability (isn’t that all of them?), companies like Para Kito offer essential oils that are natural mosquito repellants for fun summer nights.
    • There’s a lack of pretense that toys are just for kids these days—adults were seen around the showroom enjoying everything from the new Razor Trike to Fat Brain Toy Co.’s Door Pong (invented by Alexander X., age 10).

Our POV is that we appreciate the thoughtfulness we saw on the showroom floor this year.  Homegrown toy companies are creating meaningful ways to play, not just jumping on bandwagons or innovating for the sake of novelty.  The joy of childhood is squarely in the spotlight this year, and we encourage our client brands to strike a similar tone.

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

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