In today’s world, we are more interconnected than ever. Our smart phones provide unlimited access to nearly everything: basic phone calls and texts, social media, banking, GPS, online shopping, and more.
Over the last decade, technology has moved beyond our screens. It lives in our homes, vehicles and even children’s toys. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to our everyday physical objects that are connected to a device or app. For many of us, IoT is a part of our daily living. That’s especially true for our kids.
A University of Iowa study found that 90 percent of kids under age 2 had a moderate ability to use a tablet. But things like tablets and smartphones aren't the only cause for concern.
Parents and caregivers should be cautious with any toy that has cameras or microphones, has GPS or Internet connectivity, or requests and stores data.
Benefits of IoT Toys and Devices
IoT devices can be extremely helpful for parents and caregivers. For example, a baby monitor with a built-in camera can assure you that your child is safe in their crib. And if a toddler has a fever, Teddy the Guardian is a great tool for parents. Teddy the Guardian is a plush bear that has sensors built into his paw. When a child squeezes the paw, it collects medical data in about five seconds, including heart rate, oxygen levels in the blood and body temperature.
If your child doesn’t love to brush their teeth, IoT has a solution. Grush is an electric toothbrush that transforms brushing into an interactive game. Kids play games using the app and then parents can monitor their scores. Scores are determined by how well they brushed.
Additionally, smart toys can help develop early learning skills such as critical thinking. Have you heard of Dash and Dot? These toy robots allow kids to program how the robot moves. The Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit teaches the basics of coding, which is a skill that is often required of Information Technology (IT) professionals.
While IoT devices can entertain, teach, and keep kids busy, too much screen time may lead to problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs for children age 2 to 5 years old. If you’re looking for more specific advice on screen time, Common Sense Media offers tips on how to set guidelines that best fit your family’s needs. As kids get older, Common Sense Media provides a Family Media Agreement to establish realistic rules around media and technology use in your home. These limits are even more challenging, and yet still important, in COVID-19 times.
Since smart toys collect and share data, it’s important to monitor your child closely so that their privacy is not compromised. Because these toys are connected to the Internet, there is a possibility that “hackers” could access personal information, such as your child’s name, address or health information. Parents should be extra cautious with toys that include built-in cameras. Children should use these toys with adult supervision in common area, such as a living room or kitchen, and never take them in the bathroom where their bodies could be exposed.
The most important thing you can do to protect a child’s privacy is to have an open conversation with them. Discuss risks or safety concerns, especially if they are interacting with other people online. Talk to your child about never giving out personal information or posting sensitive data on social media. Let your child know that they can always come to you if they feel uncomfortable, and that it is never appropriate for someone to ask them to keep a secret, especially if it’s online.
Simple steps to keep your family safe also include: using strong passwords for each IoT device (use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols), making sure to change your Wi-Fi password every 90 days, and monitoring browser history on devices. Lastly, before buying a smart toy, check the reviews to learn about potential risks or negative experiences. To help parents navigate the good and the bad, there are Federal Trade Commission-approved groups that verify children’s privacy. Learn more here.
Lynn Rosenthal is the president of The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH), which takes an integrated team approach to breaking the cycle of family violence and child abuse.
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