9 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Before Buying a Smart Toy

First word. First step. First day of school. Parents have always looked forward to these milestones. With the rise of technology, however, kids are experiencing more firsts than ever before: first phone game, first googled question, first app download. Knowing how to navigate technology is an essential skill for kids growing up in the digital age, and smart toys allow parents to ensure their children develop an understanding of this skill in a way that’s safe and kid-friendly. That said, here are a few questions every parent should ask before bringing a smart toy home.

Will The Toy Add Lasting Value?

Picture it: The back of your closet, piled high with cast away toys. Most parents know this scene all too well. While traditional toys will always play an important role in a child's development, a smart toy’s ability to update with new activities ensures it’ll capture your child’s attention for longer.

How Do Activity Updates Work?
Since content updates are such an important part of the way smart toys function, be sure to do your research on whether these updates will cost you. If the company charges for new content such as games and add-ons, you may want to think twice before purchasing.

What Will My Child Learn from this Toy?

Are you looking for an educational toy? How about one that tells jokes, leads guided meditations, or both? Do you care if the toy requires a screen for playtime? All in all, consider the type of play experience that is best for you and and your child before making your purchase.

How Does It Utilize Technology?

If you’re tech obsessed, opt for a toy that uses the best of what’s available. The CogniToys Dino, for example, is powered by both Elemental Path’s Friendgine and IBM Watson, the technology famous for beating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. The Dino uses Watson by pulling from a kid-friendly knowledge base (not Google) to answer questions like “What is photosynthesis?” or “What are pachyderms?”

Does It Have a Screen?

Smart toys and screen time aren’t necessarily one and the same. While some tech toys require the use of an app for playtime, others provide an experience directly between a child and the toy itself—offering all the benefits of traditional play without sacrificing your child’s ability to interact with technology in the digital age.

What are the Toy’s Privacy Practices?

Not all personal information is created equal. Asking for your favorite things can help create a more personalized experience, but an address (literally) hits too close to home. While we recommend familiarizing yourself with COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), watch out for the following commonly found red flags:

  • Are they asking for a last name?
  • Are they asking for an address?
  • Are they asking for your child's email, or commonly used logins? 

Tip: Before purchasing a toy, download its companion app to see what kind information the company expects you to provide.

Is the Toy Always Listening?

Many parents worry, with good reason, that smart devices hear too much. For example, Amazon’s Alexa, a device for adults used by kids, has been criticized for having a microphone that is always on. So, if you say something that sounds like “Alexa,” she springs to life. Smart toys designed for kids, on the other hand, should have a microphone that can only listen when a child actively engages with it.

How Is My Child’s Data Being Collected?
Most smart devices need to collect data in order to provide more personalized experiences. That said, how that data is collected makes a world of difference when it comes to your child’s safety. Some companies choose to store identifiable interactions on the internet, even giving users access to those files, while others take extra measures to anonymize and protect all data received.

Is My Child’s Data Being Sold?

In addition to how the company handles your child’s information, know the difference between companies who sell information and those who use third parties to improve the play experience. Elemental Path, for example, makes a commitment to not share any data the CogniToys Dino generates with outside marketing entities. Anything created by the platform stays within it and is only used to improve interactions with the Dino.

Am I Ready to Take the “Smart Toy” Leap?
We get itthe whole “smart toy” thing can sound a bit scary at first. But remember, interactive, data-driven devices aren't new. Most kids have played a game on Facebook, asked Siri a question, or Googled an answer. Buying technology made exclusively for kids instead ensures that parents have more control, not only over the type of information collected, but also over the type of information kids receive. Plus, Wi-Fi enabled toys are challenging kids for the better by putting technology in an age-appropriate context. Just be sure to consider your purchase from every angle before deciding which smart toy you should bring home for the holidays!


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