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Toddlers coming of digital age


Bruce Horovitz

USA Today
April 30, 2008


Tot toy marketing giants from Disney to Fisher-Price are nudging preschoolers as young as 3 years old to put down their sippy cups and pick up digital cameras that can cost as much as $60.

Disney is newest to the fray, set for a fall rollout of its $59.99 Disney Pix Jr. digital camera that was tested for durability by — among other things — tossing the rubberized camera down concrete staircases.

There's a burgeoning market for techy gizmos for preschoolers. Even as the $22 billion toy industry saw its sales fall 2% last year, sales of electronics targeting kids grew 2% and topped $647 million at retail for the 12 months ended in February, reports NPD Group.

"Toy manufacturers are very smart and very aware of what kids are doing," says Anita Frazier, industry analyst at NPD. "They've asked themselves: How can we capitalize on this trend?"

But some child advocates are questioning if digital cameras are appropriate for preschool play. To make a buck in a tough economy, they say, toy marketers are simply lowering age targets for adult-oriented electronic gadgets such as digital cameras.

"You could buy a lot of crayons for $60," says Susan Linn, director of the children's advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and author of The Case For Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World. "This is the marketing world's push to drive children to digital screens and away from creative play."

Instead of playing with digital cameras, kids 3 to 5 should be playing with sticks, stones and mud, says Joan Almon, chairman of The Alliance for Childhood, a children's advocacy group. "The camera becomes the lens though which they see the world. It's one more thing that gets between a child and a direct engagement with life."

Toymakers strongly disagree.

•Disney. "This generation of kids is born with technology all around them," says Chris Heatherly, vice president of technology at Disney Consumer Electronics. "It's not something they grow into, it's something they grow up with."

The camera has a special feature that can place Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie into photos.

The camera, which has Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Disney Princess versions, comes with a one-year limited warranty.

•Fisher-Price. "We saw kids wanting to take pictures with their parents' $300 Sony cameras," says Lisa Mancuso, vice president of marketing. "We filled a gaping need in the marketplace."

Fisher-Price was among the first two years ago with its $59.99 Kid-Tough Digital Camera. This fall's model has a waterproof guarantee.

•Little Tikes. At $39.99, the Little Tikes My Real Digital Camera is among the least expensive.

•VTech Electronics. Its $59.99 Kidizoom Camera takes digital video and has a 90-day warranty. "It adds to the parental arsenal of entertaining kids," says Samara Tuchband, marketing chief.


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