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The Internet of Toys: How Young Is Too Young to Bombard Our Children with the IoT?

Kids today are digital natives. They’ve had screens in their hands most of their lives and instinctively know how to fix most minor technical glitches. For these children, the Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t a ‘brave new world’, it’s the only reality they know.

In this time when devices, appliances and toys can speak to each other, it’s difficult to know if and when it’s time to reign your child’s technology. Below we outline some concerns with and benefits of the IoT’s growing presence in the lives of children.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

The IoT no longer refers to only home security and smart appliances. Everything from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear are becoming part of the IoT. This means the shirt your child wears to school or the stuffed animal they sleep with may soon communicate with each other, the internet, and other people.

There are important benefits to having interconnected devices – including monitoring a sick child’s vital signs and locating children with GPS. In addition, touch screens now give kids earlier access to the educational benefits of technology. Along with new ways to learn, the IoT provides improved methods of monitoring – helping to reassure today’s concerned parents.

Cybersecurity Risks

Though there are many benefits to a more connected world, cybersecurity risks also create reason for concern. When personal information automatically uploads to the Cloud, anyone can potentially gain access. Constant connectivity is normal for digital natives, but the privacy and security implications should cause parents to consider their child’s engagement with the IoT. There are projected to be 50 billion internet-connected devices by 2020 – showing that the IoT isn’t something parents can ignore.

Cayla – a doll that can hold a conversation and answer questions – was hacked in 2015. This instantly raised concerns about the safety of IoT devices for children, and whether or not data will be secure. If a toy can be breached, children and their information can potentially be vulnerable to hackers.

While these are valid concerns, it is impossible to mitigate all the risks of IoT devices. The key to protecting children comes down to involved parents, education, and monitoring.

Developmental Implications

Children today tend to pick up tablets before reaching for books, which causes parents to worry that their kids spend too much time in front of screens rather than interacting with other people. A 2013 study from Common Sense Media showed that 38% of children under the age of two had used a mobile device for media – a number that was only 10% in 2011.

This dramatic increase may negatively impact child development. Doctors commonly recommend that children younger than two years old not be allowed to look at screens because too much screen time can harm a child’s memory, reading ability, and language development.

However, technology also offers the potential to discover more about how children develop cognitively and intellectually, which can improve both teaching and learning. A recent survey of educators found that 46% believe the IoT will transform the way students learn because it increases student engagement and helps teachers create personalized education plans.

New technological developments often come with both positive and negative implications. The most important thing parents can do to keep their children healthy and safe is to be aware of the risks, stay involved, and pay close attention to how their children engage with technology.

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