Connected toys and wearable tech have now become a bigger part of children’s lives. Here is advice on how the Internet of things can affecting children and how to support them.
We often talk about children growing up as digital natives, that they naturally know how to use electronic devices and digital technology. However, this is to limit the experience children have today of the internet. Rather than something that is simply consumed on the screen it now extends to physical products and associated devices that send and receive data for fun and leaning — the internet of things.
This means that children don’t see a sharp device between the virtual online world and the physical world around them. At a simple level, this starts with apps and games that interact with and are powered by toys. In the video-game world, this can be a Lego figure who not only unlocks characters in the game but also saves their progress. Or it might be a toy car that can interact with an on-screen racing game.
While many parents can worry about screen time a better way to look at internet and game playing is whether the child is having a varied diet — much like we don’t concern ourselves with children’s “plate time” and instead teach them to eat well. The internet of things is helpful here as it encourages children towards activity that is not tied to a screen — whether that’s for play, learning or outdoor exploration.
It’s difficult these days to buy any new toys that don’t have a franchised or another tie-in with a website or interactive online service of some kind. But now the toys themselves are becoming “smart”. They can connect to the internet, either via a piece of cable tying them to a USB port or, more likely, via WiFi.
Some parents have bought WiFi connected baby monitors and cameras to help them look after their children. There is no problem in principle with any of this but sadly some of the manufacturers of these devices appear to have been a bit slack when it came to putting security standards in place and some of these devices and toys are being hacked.
Suddenly parents are discovering their child’s private conversations with their doll have gone off to a remote server only to be accessed by goodness knows who, who managed to find a way in. At the end of February 2017, another major story broke about products made by CloudPets. So my advice: if you are going to buy a connected toy or device for use in the home, only buy from a reputable and well-established brand and check out thoroughly what the existing security standards are. Never ever use the default login or the default password and check if the security settings can be updated and changed. If they can’t, don’t buy it.
The environment that students learn in today, is at a stage that we have never witnessed before. It can be easy to focus only on what great benefits the age of the Internet of Things can bring, and how to achieve them. But while educators may be intent on helping students to become excellent achievers, there is a good reason why institutes have a legal obligation to maintain a thorough and up-to-date internet security protocol. The greater the growth of IoT, the higher the threat of cyberbullying, data protection and exposure to inappropriate content.
As an eLearning services provider, we are very aware that we encourage the growth of IoT. But we also advocate a diverse, well-rounded approach to education. The advances in digital technology bring great worth to the education industry. But you cannot lose sight of the true purpose of education, achieving a deeper learning. A multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary environment should always be encouraged, throughout the sector.
The truth is that at this moment in time we really just don’t know what impact IoT is going to have on children or their development. It is still a new and emerging technology. If you are a parent and read the main stream media then IoT is a soul consuming monster. However, technology itself is neither good or bad, it’s how we use them that makes the difference.
IoT is no different. Take ‘Teddy Guardian’. On the outside a simple child’s stuffed animal. On the inside brimming with technology that can check a babies heart rate, temperature and even oxygen levels alerting parents to potential health issues early on. Who knows it may even save a life soon.
It also depends on how you market IoT. When I ask parents if they would allow a microphone in their child’s room that will record their child’s conversations and then store it on someone else computer the majority of parents look horrified. Yet ‘Hello Barbie’, the Wi-Fi connected doll, does exactly that. Does this make Barbie wrong? No, of course, it doesn’t but, In an age of questions around privacy, hacking, advertising and online safety it does raise some interesting questions!
See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.