Seven Hot Tech Products Reshaping How We View Children’s Technology

Parenting was never easy, and in the digital age it is becoming more complex. As parents of two pre-teenage boys, my wife and I do not allow devices at meals and restrict screen time, showing more leniency with eBooks.

Family researchers have different takes on the effects of technology – especially screen time – on kids. A 2018 study in the journal Preventive Medicine found young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to have depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day. But a 2017 study in Child Development found “little or no support for harmful links between digital screen use and young children’s psychological well-being.” In any case, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents and caretakers to limit screen time for kids between the ages of two and five, and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® supports limits on kids’ screen use as well.

Technology is now commonly used for learning, too. According to a recent CTA study, four-in-five educators and 86% of parents say technology is becoming a key part of classroom education. While experts continue to debate the effects of screen time and digital exposure, tech companies are increasingly thoughtful about the products they create for kids. Harnessing artificial intelligence, they’re finding new ways to advance children’s education, health and safety. Here are seven new children’s products worth exploring:

1. The AireSone Junior, a new wearable device for kids ages three and older, uses breakthrough technology to monitor their heart rate, breathing and sleep quality to alert parents if something is amiss – making it especially valuable for kids with asthma or respiratory issues.

2. TechDen combines an app to manage screen time with a physical home and charging station. The Den securely locks away – and charges – kids’ devices. Parents can create schedules to remotely lock and unlock each door. And they can get alerts about device removal and time use.

3. Coding Critters by Learning Resources bring early STEM concepts to preschool learning through 100% screen-free coding. For ages four and up, these puppies come with a playset and storybook. Kids learn to code activities like hide and seek, fetching a ball or playing on the slide.

4. The new Veta Smart Case & App for EpiPens or other epinephrine auto-injectors allows parents to monitor the proximity of the device to their child. The case also monitors temperature and expiration dates and alerts parents when the device has been removed from the case.

5. The Oral-B Genius X toothbrush, designed by dental professionals and featured at CES 2019, helps kids (and adults) develop good brushing habits. The toothbrush has a built-in timer and alerts a child who’s brushing too hard. Parents can track their kids’ brushing with a related app.

6. With Specdrums, kids put on a thumb ring, connect to an app and tap on anything – like a table or the Specdrums playing pad – to create and mix sounds and beats. It also works with other music-making apps like GarageBand. It’s a portable and fun way for kids to discover music.

7. The clip-on Lynq is an advanced long-range tracker that doesn’t require cell service or Wi-Fi. When parents know they’ll be out in a crowd, they can clip one unit on their child and one on themselves. If the child gets lost within a 3-mile radius, the Lynq will provide directions to the other unit (or units). An alert system also vibrates and rings the instant someone leaves the designated safe zone.

Technology is transforming the way we approach our kids’ health, learning and safety. With new developments in 5G, AI, robotics and machine learning, children’s tech isn’t something to fear – in some cases, it can literally be life-saving.

Health Technology in Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation

We, as consumers, now know more about our own health and wellness than ever before. […] Think back a decade: How many times, outside of a medical appointment, did you pause to check your pulse? I’ve been a regular runner since junior high, but I don’t think I ever bothered to track my heart rate while training or racing until I started wearing a Fitbit.

Now? With a twist of my wrist, I easily can check how close I am to my daily goal of steps taken, my pace, and my heart rate without breaking stride. Almost every day I check how I slept the night before and how often I was restless or woke up. And I can do it all with “over-the-counter” consumer technology that sets up, syncs, and begins tracking in minutes.

Technology is improving the human condition, helping us live longer, healthier, more productive lives. The medical community is unlocking mysteries about diet and disease detection with cutting-edge research, lightning-fast data analysis, and technology. All these exciting new developments are pushing towards what I call the ninja future––a connected world powered by the people and the innovation to shape the world into a better, bolder place. The main technological driver behind our skyrocketing access to our own wellness data is the development of the microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS). These tiny sensors are becoming less expensive even as they become more accurate. Understanding the mass-market appeal of such highly precise and personalized healthcare, ninja innovators keep developing new services to delight consumers and to solve real problems. But MEMS’ size and cost make them ideal for use in wearable devices, such as earbuds that monitor your body temperature and utensils that help offset hand tremors when someone is eating while also collecting data on the tremors for researchers.

And here’s where it gets exponentially more valuable to us (and, personally, exciting to me). Our growing appetite for anytime/anywhere connectivity with our friends, family, colleagues, and doctors will improve our health and wellness. How do you respond when your doctor asks, “Tell me about your symptoms” or “Describe your pain”? Probably with a lot of subjective, anecdotal self-analysis: “I seem more tired than usual,” or “It feels like it hurts less.”

But there’s a gap between what’s actually happening to your body and how you interpret it. So out comes the blood pressure cuff, “Open wide and say Ahhh,” and “Does it hurt here?” Maybe you have blood drawn. In every case, you wait for information.

Now consider a medical consultation powered by ninja innovation—one that doesn’t even involve parking lots or waiting rooms. Without asking a single question, your doctor could review your activity levels over a given time period. She could check your recent hydration, sodium, and oxygen levels without needles. A quick review of your connected prescription dispensers might show you inadvertently skipped a few doses of your medicine.

An example: A friend of mine has been a diabetic since childhood and frequently had to extract blood samples. Recently he told me his life has changed thanks to a small, flat device he wears that samples blood from a subcapillary every five minutes and sends the information to his smartphone. An alert goes off if his blood glucose level is outside the normal range. There are also automatic glucose-level monitoring-and-adjusting devices that give diabetics an “artificial pancreas” to keep their blood sugars at safe levels. This sensing technology has amazing implications for the 425 million adults worldwide who live with diabetes.

Digital therapeutics—apps, sensors, and smart technologies that function as stand-alones or in combination with conventional treatments such as medicine or therapy—have the potential to change behavior, and in some cases may be more effective than drug treatments. These treatments work well for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and insomnia. The idea is that a patient’s well-being starts with doctor’s orders, but ultimately depends on the patient’s willingness to change behaviors and monitor his or her own health.

Focused ultrasound holds the promise of noninvasively treating myriad conditions—from tremors to cancer—at early stages. Cutting-edge prosthetics combine software with sensors that respond to the wearers’ movements, allowing them to perform highly precise, complex tasks (like turning keys in locks) that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

On sports fields and on the battlefield, head injuries are another frontier. Concussion-sensing technologies in helmets—like those developed by MC-10—are increasingly providing coaches, trainers, and the U.S. military with immediate information about head injuries, so they can appropriately assess, extract, and treat those affected.

Future ninjas also understand that our genetic makeup is fertile ground for innovations in health tech. Cloud computing and big data mean we can analyze millions of patient medical records to uncover which diets and treatment regimens work best, depending on patients’ maladies, genetics, demographics, and physical activity. Each individual’s genetic code can now be mapped, and the cost of doing so is dropping rapidly. Increasingly, the individual human genome will be a baseline for recommended exercise, sleep, stress, and nutrition for wellness programs. When you get sick, genetic mapping will also allow personalized diagnoses and treatment plans.

Future ninjas are on the cusp of other ingenious breakthroughs in genetics, health care, and telemedicine that will soon become mainstream. These discoveries will allow millions of consumers to assess and address their health concerns, and will enable doctors to diagnose and treat patients with greater accuracy than ever before.

Adapted from the book NINJA FUTURE: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation by Gary Shapiro. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Shapiro. Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

How Tech Can Help Worried Parents

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been put in the frustrating position of competing with your child’s phone for attention – and losing. Intermittent silences, grunts or one-word responses, fast-typing fingers – all telltale signs that he or she has found something more interesting than you. It’s often not even a close contest.

An article in The Atlantic drew attention to the dangers of unlimited smartphone use by teenagers – and smartphones are pervasive, as 80 percent of households now own at least one smartphone, according to Consumer Technology Association research. Since smartphones became ubiquitous about ten years ago, the time our teens spend with friends and on dates has dropped dramatically, while loneliness, lack of sleep and mental health issues have risen sharply.

Most adults are not digital natives. We’re new to the benefits – and challenges – of anytime/anywhere connectivity. Many of us have failed to set effective boundaries and are just as distracted as our children. To be the role models our children deserve, we must create a healthy household culture, including how and when we use technology. Our grandparents did this with pinball games and Pong, and our parents did it with Pac-Man and Minesweeper. We can also set limits.

First, that means insisting that conversations and relationships are a top priority. Practically, this will look different for each family. Some might find it useful to create a tech-free zone in their house or car, where no phones, tablets or laptops are allowed. Instead, play car games or listen to audiobooks. Others might set a limited amount of screen time a day, using parental control apps to set time limits. Whatever rules or boundaries you create, the goal is the same: reconnecting with your kids by temporarily disconnecting from your devices. My wife and I ban all electronics but eBooks in our children’s bedroom and limit our nine year old’s phone usage to an older phone that can only operate using Wi-Fi.

But creating a healthy household tech culture isn’t just about controlling the potentially negative aspects of tech devices. We should find new ways technology can lead our children to healthier, happier lives. Wearables, for instance, partner with devices and allow kids to track their health and physical fitness, and better train for their favorite sports. They’ll know how to monitor their wellness and watch for signs of oncoming illness – and they’ll be able to give doctors more precise information about their symptoms.

Wearables can even help parents of autistic children predict and prepare for episode triggers. Reveal, a wearable designed for kids with autism, closely tracks the signs of mood shifts and lets parents know when their children are on the verge of sensory overload. In the future, this type of device could be used to help kids with anxiety, cerebral palsy and other health issues.

Digital devices can also be used to foster our children’s creativity and expose them to new ideas. It used to be that a small group of big TV networks decided what our kids would watch – but thanks to the internet and tech enabling content creation by all kinds of artists, kids now have a nearly endless array of options. You probably haven’t heard of that band your teen is listening to – but then again, neither has half of his or her friends. And many of these options come from unknown global artists and creators, instead of just the entertainment giants.

Smartphones and tablets let kids connect, create and collaborate. Social platforms allow them to share their work and find likeminded peers who share similar interests. Twenty years ago, if you were the one kid in the neighborhood who liked to make movies, you’d be all alone in your hobby. But thanks to today’s digital devices, you can find other young directors to share ideas and techniques.

And connected tech can help parents keep their children safer. Location apps, for instance, offer parents an unprecedented amount of child supervision. Ceaseless questions like “Where are you going?” and “What are you doing?” disappear when parents can simply check their phones and see where their kids are. We can also track our kids’ digital whereabouts – the sites they visit, the content they watch – through parental control apps and software, preventing kids from inadvertently wandering to unsafe or unsavory corners of the internet.

It’s easy to get worried or frustrated when you try to have a conversation with your child and all you get is a dismissive glance and curt response. But remember: technology is a tool that can be used for good or bad, in excess or in moderation.

Before we start wringing our hands over technology’s influence on the next generation, we need to take a hard look at our own tech habits. One teen in The Atlantic piece said of her own generation, “I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” What about the rest of us? Are we using technology creatively and actively, or are we passively and idly letting our technology use us?

With tech, as with all other innovative tools, it’s up to us to figure out how, when and where best to use them – and then show our children how it’s done.