Digital Babies & Techno Toys At The CES Sandbox Summit

digital-baby.jpgAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we’re privileged to have coverage at the International Consumer Electronics Show Sandbox Summit via MC Milker, who we’ll no doubt be hearing more from as she navigates the early phases of motherhood amidst a plethora of new beeping, blipping, (some would say bleeping!) toys and products commanding childrens’ mindshare. (hear keynote & highlights via this audio/video podcast portal)

As one who can still hum the ‘Jumpstart Toddlers’ song which got quite a bit of use even after my child outgrew the skill sets, I have to remind all that Shaping Youth is smack dab in the “moderation” camp of media messaging…I love digital media. But I love free play even more…

It’s never been a push-pull in this household as we’ve always universally favored forts and freedom of outdoor play, and are lucky enough to have safe access and parkland in ‘surround sound’ the same way others have media encasement…

That said, when we hear 2007 stats shift to using “electronic gadgets at age 6.7, as opposed to age 8.1 in 2005” the prominence and dominance of media bears watching VERY closely, as the acceleration is clearly on ‘fast forward.’ (see CES coverage in Newsweek here and a great article in USA Today “Tech Show Tackles What’s Appropriate, or not for Kids”)

How is play being altered with techno gadgetry? What will the convergence of technology, media and the power of play represent for future generations? What is at stake? And what is ‘in play’ from a digital learning standpoint? Here’s MC with more:

“D is for Digital”–A Report from the CES Sandbox

by MC Milker, Guest Correspondent for Shaping Youth

ces-toy.JPGThe Sandbox Summit, at CES in Las Vegas, which I discussed here was more about boxes than about sand — digital boxes.

Held in connection with The Consumer Electronics Show, it featured a dozen or so manufacturers of digital devices aimed at kids as well as children’s advocacy groups and academics. (speakers list here)

They all met to figure out how children play in the technological age and, in the manufacturers’ case anyway, how to capitalize on the increasingly digitalization of childhood…in other words how to create more electronic games, toys and devices for kids.

Whatever the underlying purpose, (it WAS held at CES, the trade show for electronic gadget makers after all) at least they had a summit…And at least we did hear about some of the effects of technology on children.

“We see how play and technology are merging,” says Parents’ Choice Foundation’s Claire Green. “There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.” Now, Green adds, it’s a matter of getting toy manufacturers to keep enhancing their product lines.

And you know…that’s really the point…Parents need to understand the impact of technology and the industry needs to develop products that meet parents’ needs. Unfortunately, with little regulation of product claims, “educational toys” are subjective.

A report presented at the conference by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, called D is for Digital, analyzed the children’s interactive media environment with a focus on mass marketed, informal learning products for children ages 3 to 11.

They found that while both parents and experts believe that the new interactive media represents an opportunity to expand children’s skills and knowledge, major concerns with quality, developmental appropriateness, and educational value persist.

Ah, yea….

Some of the trends they uncovered were startling and somewhat scary to those of us interested in holding off on plugging our kids in as long as possible.

  • Children are using digital media more often and at an earlier age, beginning to use electronic gadgets at age 6.7, as opposed to age 8.1 in 2005 (NPD, 2007).
  • Media convergence has never been more prominent, providing children with continuous round-the-clock access to content.
  • Educational toys, referred to in the industry as Electronic Learning Aids (ELAs), represent a significant category within the $22 billion toy industry.

And they made some recommendations:

Create evidentiary standards to help make sense of products marketed as “educational.”

No voluntary or regulatory standards currently exist around marketing products as educational. Without firm and independently verified standards of educational value, how is a parent or educator able to discern if products live up to their claims?

Break the traditional model of one child per screen in children’s educational digital media.

The bulk of educational digital media products now on the market assume one child sitting alone in front of a screen; however, better learning takes place when an adult is present to scaffold the child’s learning experience…

This is an opportune time to develop educational digital media products that encourage intergenerational interaction.

Protect children from digital age commercialism.

The emergence of immersive digital media products for children, such as virtual worlds, creates an unprecedented opportunity for commercial marketing.

For children under the age of 12 who are highly impressionable, it is especially important to advance policies that safeguard them from commercial targeting in the digital age.

All good recommendations.

And, implicitly, because the report focuses on children 3 and up, this report supports the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of no screen time for children under two.

Granted, Joan Ganz Cooney is a television producer credited with developing Sesame Street and the foundation has a vested interest in working with electronic media. Their goal:

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center will focus new attention on the challenges children face today, asking the 21st century equivalent of her original question,

“How can emerging media help children learn?”

But, I’m OK with that. I’ve always been an advocate of working from the inside to institute change.

The digital age is here to stay. Let’s limit children’s exposure to electronic toys and games but let’s also make sure that the ones that they have are providing the educational value that blocks, dolls and tree houses do…at least on some level.

—MC Milker for Shaping Youth, from Las Vegas

Stay tuned for ‘new toys’ in the digital sandbox, coming up next…

Meanwhile, visit the Sandbox Summit blog, with articles like this one from Microsoft, “Safety is No Game, Is Your Family Set?” or this one about how Google needs a special ‘student version’…Join in the dialog, air your views!

Related Resources: Don’t miss the YPulse Tween Media Round-Up with a special thank you to founder Anastasia Goodstein for the mention of Robin Daas, who just ‘friended’ me on Facebook, and runs Heart of Gold Girls which looks inspiring and intriguing on the philanthropic level of youth social entrepreneurs! (I was wondering who Robin was, and where she found me!)

Anastasia has also launched a Facebook group called Revitalizing The Children’s Television Act For The Digital Age (though I agree with her editorial comment on her article above that it will be a good ‘social experiment’ in terms of whether these groups are ‘active’ or not, participation-wise, since we’re all so ‘tmi’ laden these days!)

Anyone want to take the helm? She’s looking for leaders/moderators for the FB group…



  1. Nice analysis – thanks for the link and exposure. It’s good to see the mainstream media finally exploring the option that hmmm possible there can be too much of a good thing. we too are in the moderation camp.

  2. I KNOW you are, and I’m about to post your final piece, in a sec…stay tuned! Very appreciative of your balanced reporting…

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