Ruwandi Perera explains why kids are the earliest adopters

“Kids are growing up in a digital playground and no one is on recess duty,” says Kevin Honeycutt, creator of the ArtSnacks learning community, and international keynote speaker on technology, education and the prevention of cyber-bullying.

Anyone with a date of birth prior to year 2000 already feels like a dinosaur thanks to digital natives – they seem to have been born with an iPad in hand and a thirst for data. Kids nowadays are far more advanced than their older counterparts and the level of technology adoption is sky-high.

This perhaps explains why the Internet of Toys seems to be taking off on a better footing than IoT.

Traditional toy manufacturers are changing with technology to keep pace with kids. Lego has understood that unless kids are offered a digital experience from which they can learn to build, it will soon become an obsolete brand that simply used to sell building blocks ‘once upon a time.’

Lego has come up with Mindstorms – programmable robots that children themselves can build, and then programme to respond and perform tasks. The cute and plucky robot Cozmo from Anki is probably the hottest artificial intelligence (AI) toy in the market since it recognises faces, learns names and plays games with kids, looking as though a Pixar character has come to life.

Since the distinction between online and offline life is blurring for these digital natives, everything from toys to playtimes and learning to entertainment need to be ‘next gen.’ Parents have no option but to allow their kids to tread the digitised path of life – resistance is not only futile but will hinder their children’s learning processes and disadvantage them as the future is likely to offer far less offline elements.

However, this does not mean that every screaming kid should be given a smartphone while he or she’s in a stroller. Rather, it means that parents must understand that unlike themselves, their kids have been born into the digital age and what was normal 20 or 30 years ago isn’t the norm today.

It’s quite normal to see kids – even from the age of two… or younger! – swiping smartphones, browsing videos on YouTube, playing games, and even communicating with their parents through Skype, FaceTime and Snapchat – the latter seems to be very popular with the young ones.

Today’s children are growing up with online content from nursery rhymes to sleep hypnosis videos – young children are learning to use smartphones and tablets even before they’re able to talk!

While we grew up spending our evenings hanging on the phone with friends or love interests for hours on end (much to the displeasure of our parents, who ended up having to pay the phone bill), teenagers nowadays are talking less and typing more.

Voice interactions seem to have reduced. Children seem to be losing their voice; they’re quite content with Vine videos and 140 character tweets. Kids are happy sending messages, emojis, images, memes and videos. It’s no wonder that the Oxford Dictionary adds words such as ‘webhead’ every now and then.

Digital age kids are such that they expect everything to work at the click of a button – yes, literally so!

They haven’t experienced the pain and anxiety of waiting for the dial-up tone when using the internet. Even when it comes to entertainment, radio and print have long been extinct in the eyes of millennials, and TV is dying a natural death in their minds. Kids nowadays want on-demand entertainment; they’re less tolerant of advertisements or ‘unwanted’ screen time.

Coming back to Honeycutt’s quote, we should not be stopping kids from playing in the digital playground but it would do a great deal of good if someone – parents, teachers or adults together – takes up recess duty.

While accepting the scientifically proven fact that their offspring are more digitally savvy than themselves, parents must familiarise themselves with digital advancements that are taking place. Parenting must include a digital element so that children are offered the technology they need while mothers and fathers keep both eyes open.

Digital adoption among kids lends itself to extending the scope for learning. Simple and interactive games such as My Very Hungry Caterpillar, Thinkrolls: Kings and Queens, and Cookie Monster’s Challenge require preschoolers to think outside the box. Meanwhile, direct learning games such as Elmo Loves 123s and Abby Cadabby help them learn while playing.

It’s not only about ABC, 123 and creative thinking; even the artistic side of children can be kindled with games such as Toca Dance where kids get to pick their dancers, dress them, teach dance routines and cheer them as they perform.

So if you’re buying Christmas presents for your iGen kids, think tablet computers – not train stations and doll’s houses!