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Teddy bears or touchscreens? Playthings of the digital age

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 7:26am
Daniele DeAngelis Walker, Editorial Intern

Kids these days play more with tablets and touchscreens than traditional toys, according to a recent survey. The same survey shows this trend is poised to continue— could tech replace toys altogether?

The Michael Cohen Group (MCG), child education specialists, recently conducted a nationwide study to determine how much time children spend playing with different  types of objects, including traditional puzzles, board games, etc., and also gaming consoles, touchscreens, and more. They questioned about 350 parents with kids age 12 and under. These were the results:

As you can see, touchscreens and gaming consoles have a definitive edge over more traditional analog toys like board games and crafts.  

What gives? Could it actually be better for kids to play with technology than toys? Drawing a picture on an iPad is certainly less messy than strewing crayons all over Mom’s beautiful living room. So many apps aimed at kids are free or incredibly inexpensive these days. A good portion of these center on cognitive skills, music, art, or the like, which help to educate kids while they play.

But not so fast. 49% of parents admit that their children use mobile devices for “free play” games, which don’t have any educational value. And while a computerized game might be less of a hassle than an old-fashioned board game, kids aren’t necessarily forced to interact with each other while playing. That means kids are losing social education, too.

Whether it’s good or bad, Digital Kids have certainly taken technology and run with it. They’re still running. MCG reports that 36% of kids under 12 have their own mobile phone and/or tablet. That statistic was in single digits just last year. (I didn’t get my first cell phone till I was 15, and I didn’t have a laptop till college. Kids and teens today look at me like I have three heads when I tell them that. Now I see why.)

Have touchscreens totally taken over? It’s tough to say. According to the MCG study, only about 10% of parents say they only consider touchscreens to be toys. Meanwhile, 58% report that they “sometimes” consider touchscreens toys. And the remaining 32% think that touchscreens should never be considered toys. 

Rearing children totally free of screens is near impossible in this digital age, but debates flare every day about how much technology kids should be allowed to use; to what extent they should be monitored; and what age is right for kids to own devices like computers and cell phones. What do you think? Should kids have free reign of technology as they grow? Should touchscreens be considered toys? Leave your thoughts below.

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