MC Milker Reports on New Digital Toys for Shaping Youth at CES

ces-photos.jpgShaping Youth continues our series of guest commentary by MC Milker at the Sandbox Summit which wrapped up yesterday in Las Vegas. (full CES media coverage here)

Figure I’d better cut to the chase and offer her academic and marketing bio at the end of this piece so you can jump right into browsing the ‘new era of play,’ what’s new in digital content…and see who earned media ‘bragging rights’ for groundbreaking technology at CES. Here’s MC’s post:

“Clearly, we’re in a digital age,” says Claire Green, president of the Parents’ Choice Foundation, sponsor of the summit. “Kids are teething on remote controls. They’re constantly exposed to digital media. So let’s find out what makes sense. Let’s find out what’s age appropriate and what encourages learning, thinking, probing.”

And so, among the glitz and gadgets of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, producers, educators and researchers, as well as childrens’ advocacy groups, gathered to review “play” in the digital age…

Online Educator MC Milker’s report for Shaping Youth, cont…

This year a number of devices were introduced specifically targeting children and teens. Despite the amazing paucity of research on the impact of technology on children’s behavior, intellect and development, game and toy manufacturers had no problem touting the educational properties of their offerings.

Some of them are worth watching for in the coming months as they show up in stores and online.

Some are worth avoiding…despite the mournful pleas of kids exposed to advertisements for them in every possible venue. Let’s take a look

What to watch for — what to watch out for:

Bob — the TV Timer Though this product has been around for awhile, it picked up a lot of press at the show, which means you may find it more available and visible in stores this year. A simple, $99.00 device that plugs into your TV, computer or video game player, it allows parents to preset the amount of time up to 6 children can access the device. Great for those times when your well managed screen time schedule seems to break down. See a review from Family Safe Media. Since I’ve taught online for almost 10 years now, I’m a big fan of online education and believe that it has a place in education for middle schoolers on up. The easy, instant access and inexpensive price ($29.00 for 50 minutes) for one-to-one tutoring seems a winner, especially since it accommodates to every schedule.

Digital Blue Computer Microscope – This is one of those products that can get away from you if you’re not careful. The concept of an inexpensive ($100) microscope that projects onto a screen is intriguing but all the bells and whistles, e.g.

“This Microscope can capture and record images and video on most PC computers and kids an share their findings at a specially created online community…”

…can turn it from a fun toy to yet another way for kids spend countless hours hanging out in a virtual playground.

WhatTheyPlay.comSince The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which rates video games doesn’t necessarily give ratings that many parents find helpful…i.e. they tend to be a wee bit more lax in what is considered acceptable, a new subscription service offers detailed information about the games and lets parents decide their appropriateness.

Trend-tracking: What to watch out for…

Jack LaLanne Redux — Our national obsession with childhood obesity and the sad decline in physical activity by youngsters has spawned a number of electronic “solutions”. Dance Revolution and Wii are joined this year by several offerings from Wild Planet Entertainment including Hyper Dash (ages 6 to 12), Hyper Jump and upcoming Animal Scramble (for preschoolers).

All use voice commands and in some cases RFID chips to create clever active games for kids to play….without parental involvement or much creative thought. How ‘bout we get out and play a game of family musical chairs, Twister or hot potato instead?

Virtual worlds — As I wrote about here and here, online worlds for children are exploding. Visits to such sites went up 68% last year, according to Hitwise with Disney’s Penguin Club and Mattel’s, as well as Webkinz some of the most popular and the least educational. (Editorial note from Amy: To add to MC’s post, here’s a comprehensive roundup of pre-beta virtual worlds for tweens, via Izzy Neis’ post here) 

One recommendation in the report D is for Digital by the Cooney Center, which I wrote about here is that producers of these sites make a wild attempt to incorporate something educational. Meanwhile beware, this is the hot new trend and there will be a lot of marketing dollars behind it…

Barbie® iDesign — the newest product from the Barbie Tech group, uses a CD-Rom computer game, a USB-connected scanner and swipe-able fashion cards to move traditional doll dress up play onto an interactive, computer-based game. I remember this game in its non-tech version from my youth. It was fun but not as much fun as dressing up my real Barbies.

There are a number of reasons to avoid this product: If you’re a parent who bemoans the gender typing aspect of “fashion design” or if you dislike Barbies in general you’ll probably not give this product a second look…But “Barbie-neutral” moms may be caught off guard and find Barbie dolls used for creative play abandoned in lieu of hours in front of a screen in the world of virtual Barbie.

greenoptions.gifAbout MC Milker:

Shaping Youth ‘stumbled upon’ MC as a fellow parent, blogger, child advocate and marketer to boot…which is NOT oxymoronic, as anyone in the academic sphere can attest.

Educators are ‘brand savvy’ too, and some of the sharpest people I’ve met in the kids arena have the chops of Ivory Tower professorial wisdom, with the grounded, pop culture understanding of being ‘a mainstream mom.’

I found MC Milker via ‘Mom’ from Outside the Toybox, who is currently on a sabbatical to finish her book, in the all-too-familiar push/pull tugs of achieving the life-family-work-balance.

In addition to MC’s blog, “The Not Quite Crunchy Parent,” MC also blogs at a collaborative hub I’ve been interested in writing for, called EcoChild’s Play, which is a Green Options media site (the entire GO community for eco-tips, edu-talks, and like-minded souls is worth checking out!).

Here’s one of MC’s recent posts on EcoChild’s Play…all about creating ‘non-toxic, healthy homes’ and green parenting. (I’m sure I pale by comparison…but as the advertisers would say, I’m the ‘aspirational’ target market!)

Last, but not least, here’s her personal bio, all about her blended MBA background of marketing, teaching, and parenthood, from Univ. of Ca. Berkeley to University of Hong Kong…I have a feeling we’ll be ‘swapping content’ to cover more ground very, very soon.

Welcome, MC, and thanks again for your editorial insights and reporting for us at CES on behalf of Shaping Youth…

Wish I could’ve joined you, but I’m still in search of a clone…

Promise I’ll return the favor at the upcoming state wellness summit, Champions for Change: Taking Action for Healthy Eating and Active Living to combat childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

Also stay tuned for an aligned piece on using media to GET physical, as we test out the active gaming teen gym craze popping up all over (yes, Karen, ‘energy rocks!’) and assess viable methods for changing the channel toward youth health and well-being!



  1. Wow, the Barbie iDesign, that’s pretty intense! I mean I know alot of things are moving online but geez…you’re right about regulating the cool vs practical aspects of virtual worlds. The younger they are the more discipline is needed. Thanks for the insight into the side of CES that probably doesn’t get that much attention!

    Wish I could join you all out there for the Champions for Change summit 🙁

  2. Hi Andre, I’m forwarding your thoughts to MC Milker, since she was the one editorializing here, but yeah, you’re right…

    I’ve noticed the “Sandbox Summit” is a TEENY weeny slice of dialog and advocacy amidst the overall CES picture…It’s an important one, as marketers are targeting kids in huge ways on all digital platforms, so it’s the ‘opportunity’ the biggies are goin’ for…I wish I felt more sanguine that this would spread into a larger dialog, but as MCMilker implied, it seems to be a ‘handful’ of folks right now, with Parents Choice at the helm…in an effort to BEGIN to discuss some of the short and long term goals/positives/negatives and address technology and play in general.

    I guess we should be ‘pleased’ that it’s even on the table, as an issue and a concern…but I’m hoping it’s not just ‘lipservice’ (in other words, ‘see? lookie here at us, we’re addressing the issues you’re exploring with due diligence) as a PR maneuver rather than a productive summit …

    MC brought up the point of quantifiable research for example, and the subjectiveness of what is deemed ‘educational’—etc.

    I love digital media, so I’m hoping they just don’t keep putting the big bucks $$$$$$$$$$ into cranking out merchandisable slop and instead focus on the FUN FACTOR VALUE of exploring and growth/learning via INNOVATION and creative uses of the media/mediums.

    Long winded…but you get my drift.

    Wish you could be at Champions for Change, too!! I’ll report in! –a.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for the kind words about the Sandbox Summit. We were so delighted that CES agreed to partner with us and the audience of normally business-minded folks took so much time from their schedules to listen.

    Come see the photos at
    –Robin Raskin

  4. Thanks, Robin…It’s an important topic that NEEDS the ears of business-minded folks on a variety of levels…Now more than ever! Appreciate the ping…I’ll go check the photos now! –Amy

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