Saturday, December 01, 2007


Tot technology

O brave new world, that has such toys in’t!

The hot toys for pre-school children this year, are technological ones:

Cellphones, laptops, digital cameras and MP3 music players are among the hottest gift items this year. For preschoolers.

Toy makers and retailers are filling shelves with new tech devices for children ages 3 and up, and sometimes even down. They say they are catering to junior consumers who want to emulate their parents and are not satisfied with fake gadgets.

“Not satisfied with fake gadgets,” indeed.

At the risk of sounding like my grandfather, well... a digital camera for a preschooler? My father gave me an old Brownie Hawkeye when I was about 8. I was delighted to have such an interesting toy! And a toy it was, when he gave it to me: it would have been around 15 years old at the time, and the adults had had their use out of it. It was ready, then, to be given to a child. And it did work. Dad would occasionally give me some film for it, so I could take real pictures. The rest of the time, I pretended.

Remember “pretending”?

I also had the loan of my parents’ “transistor radio”, which I was allowed to use at the beach to listen to the likes of Jan and Dean on WQAM, the big top-40 radio station in south Florida at the time. No MP3 music players existed then, of course, nor did mobile telephones. Computers filled entire rooms, and we never imagined that one might sit on a person’s lap.

But it’s not just a point of amazement at where technology has come in the last 50 years. It’s more that I’m amazed at the change in what sorts of toys we now buy for our children. LeapFrogs and Game Boys, brand-new cameras, DVD players, and laptop computers. One parent, quoted in the article, prefers not to give a laptop — a real, adult laptop — to her six-year-old daughter. The daughter wants it “ ’cause it’s cool.” Maybe, says mom, when she’s eight.



Maggie said...

This strikes me as silly as well. If the technology is cheap, I don't really have a problem with a child at a younger age having a real version of an adult tool that they can use, for example, an MP3 player seems on the margin of reasonable. I remember my sister and I had a little record player that would play 45's, and we'd go into our playroom (the basement, actually), and put music on and bounce around on our hoppity horses. I can see children playing with music appropriately (although I can't see them knowing how to load them up with music, I guess the parent would have to do that, and the buttons would have to be sized so a toddler, with her less adept motor skills, could press them). Why not a CD player, though -- like a boom box? My girls had boom boxes until last year, I think, when we got them cheap little mp3 players.

A cell phone and a laptop? Give me a break. I never really cared for the electronic toys either, like the VTech alphabet crap, although we have a relative who thought they were great and loaded the children up with them. At one point I finally pried them away from my children and unloaded them at the local charity (my children didn't play with them, but at that age didn't like giving up anything that belonged to them). I think those toys are aimed at the "baby einstein" crowd, or maybe a lower class of the "baby einstein" crowd, but they're all having the wool pulled over their eyes if they think it's going to make the children smarter or even more knowledgeable. The same people plop the kids in front of PBS and assume that's somehow better than playing outside.

Some of the electronic toys are okay, though. Rather than buy my girls Gameboys, my mom got them a handheld toy, I can't even remember the name of it, that had a built-in paint kind of tool and you could also buy game cartridges that were more on the educational and less on the shoot-em-up side, and those came in handy on occasion. If you don't want your children touching the toys in the doctor's office (ugh!), then it's nice to have something to entertain them while you're wrangling with the officious idiot at the window with her forms. But before those toys, I always brought crayons to the doctor's office, and my girls still ask for crayons!

The overindulgent parenting is nauseating, it's just important, I think, to draw the line between what's appropriate and inexpensive to produce, and what's inappropriate and overpriced for a child. You probably got an old used camera at eight because camera technology was more expensive then. Now you can buy a digital camera for under $20 (probably less), and it doesn't use up film or developing costs. I don't object to that -- children love to take pictures. A cell phone is absurd, though, unless you're regularly letting your toddler go out on the town by herself.

scouter573 said...

It's not just youngsters or toddlers. We have the same issue on Boy Scout outings. These kids all have all the latest electronic doodads, from GPS units to cellphones and MP3 players. I don't have anything against electronics, per se, and I'm a gadget lover myself, but different situations call for different rules. A GPS unit can help you find things, but it can also get you lost when the batteries fail. A cellphone can be used to summon emergency help, but it can make you overconfident such that you get into a bad situation that you might otherwise have prepared for and they can trigger the waterfall of homesickness. MP3 players can be handy to share music, culture, and podcasts or they can isolate individuals into little electronic cocoons.

So we take a balanced approach in our Scout troop - we hope. A GPS is allowed for its value but we require map-and-compass as well. In fact, we usually start with the map-and-compass and check our work with GPS. We allow cellphones but they must be kept out of sight unless an emergency situation is identified; violations lead to confiscation for the duration of the outing. MP3 players are off-limits except in the car trip (we encourage books and conversation) or when playing something of relevant subject material (e.g., an astronomy podcast at night under the stars or a critter identification lecture on the trail).

To their credit, out Scouts came up with the cellphone policy by themselves. They had been previously banned outright. I'm rather proud of them.

Miss Profe said...

At least two students at my place of employ are the owners of an iPhone.

The entire phenomenon also sends a loud message re: consumerism out of control. said...

i just did a quick search on what happens to old computers and electronic equipment when we get tired of it (which kids quickly do as we all know). these youth electronic devices are made with toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, arsenic, stuff like that. when we throw them in the trash, they go into our landfills and leach into the soil and our water. when we “recycle” them, industry insiders say 80 percent of the e-waste material is exported, and 90 percent of that material goes to china. there it gets stripped by hand for every reusable bit of plastic or metal. including lead, it seems.

here’s the link i was looking at if you want more info:

Elizabeth said...

My kids love to copy their parents and play on the "real" computers. Since I have a home-based business, I was fearful of losing things with my kids playing/banging on my work computer. But, I found Peanut Butter PC (at was a great tool to lock-down my computer, while allowing the kids to launch their programs and visit their websites. I highly recommend checking it out.