A man observes a shelf full of various puzzles, nests, abacuses and wooden trains in a store of Juguettos in Ávila. Right next to it are two small robots that claim to be able to teach the letters and colors to the little ones and dance with them or "parade together in circles". The difference between the first toys and the second ones is, precisely, technology: traditional games of all life in front of machines. Many parents have begun to fear the excessive use of tablets and smartphones by children and choose to give their children creative toys with few technological components.
This is the case of Marisol Napal, a mother who walks through Juguettos in search of gifts. She has three children, one, six and 19 years old. "The medium plays a lot with the Playmobil and the little one is entertained even with some cutlery," he says with a smile. He likes his children to use traditional toys because "they are more awake and they become more imaginative", although from time to time they do allow them to watch some video on their mobile or on the computer. But one of their concerns is that they spend too much time in front of the screens: "My nephews are totally hooked."
"There is a sector of the population, especially parents with children under the age of three, who are interested in traditional toys that do not have as much electronic component as counter-trends in front of the excessive use that is being made of technology", explains María Costa, Director of Children's Research at the Technological Institute for Children's Products and Leisure (AIJU) and PhD in pedagogy.
Amazon sent in autumn a catalog of their best-selling toys to thousands of your customers. In the colorful brochure, there were several technological products such as the Echo Dot Kids smart speaker or items from Bose, Xbox or the PlayStation. But they were also Harry Potter toys or The Incredibles and classics such as Barbie, Monopoly or different Lego sets. And there were even simple and colorful wooden toys like an ice cream case, a small broom or a shopping cart. These last three products are manufactured by Melissa & Doug, a US company that sells toys that do not require batteries and lack any electronic component, according to the news website Vox.
Costa explains that simple dolls, seesaws or wooden toys where the key is to combine pieces can help children "develop more emotional, affective, creative and manipulative skills." "This type of product puts the child in the central place and emphasizes a much more experiential experience of the toy than in other cases where technology or mechanisms make children more spectators of the game than protagonists," he explains.
"There is a sector of the population, especially parents with children under the age of three, who are interested in traditional toys that do not have as much electronic component as counter-trends in front of the excessive use that is being made of technology"
In addition, with traditional toys children "let the imagination fly" and improve fine and gross motor skills. This is what Luis Miguel Rodríguez, in charge of this store of Juguettos in Ávila, confirms that there has been an increase in sales of this type of games due to the parents' rejection of so much technology: "There has been an increase in the demand for classic toys such as Nenuco type dolls, scooters and abacuses, since there is an academy that teaches mathematics with them ".
In his shop, 75% of toys do not have technology. "Of the remaining 25%, 15% are tablets or video game consoles and the rest are interactive dolls," he says while pointing to a toy baby in whose belly says "try me". Despite the increase in interest in products without technology, practically half of the toys that children have received in the last year in Spain have mechanisms or technology, according to the Aiju guide 2018-2019.
The technological toys best valued by families are usually educational. Highlights for example, robotics and programming kits, pets and interactive dolls, video games or watches. In addition, there are traditional toys that have incorporated technology. "Now you can play board games in the traditional way or through a app on the mobile, the tablet or the television ", explain sources of the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers (AEFJ).
The best-selling games
Preschool products and dolls are the best-selling toy categories in recent years, according data of the NPD Group company collected by the AEFJ. In 2017 its sales exceeded 200 million and 150 million euros respectively. Electronic toys, however, did not reach 50 million euros. The Association of Manufacturers emphasizes that this last category includes tablets, cameras or interactive watches, but not toys of other categories that may contain technological mechanisms.
The incorporation of technology in the toy can increase its ability to attract the child's interest, surprise him and keep him more focused on a task. "When they are given some technology they are delighted and pay close attention," says Rosa María García, a woman who has gone to Juguettos to buy dolls. She has three grandchildren – two twins, two years old and a six-year-old child – and explains that in order not to abuse the new technologies, they only allow them to enjoy the tablet for about 20 minutes while they have dinner. Aiju considers it necessary to avoid the temptation to include technology in the toy when it does not provide additional value.
First contact with technology
There are parents who expose their children to screens since they are very young, as Costa says: "At nine months we already found many children who are using the tablet or even the mobile to entertain themselves while their parents have dinner in a restaurant." 35% of children between 0 and 12 years old access the internet every day, according to Aiju. In addition, one in five children between 0 and 3 years surf the web on a daily basis. While it is true that technological toys can help improve the digital skills of children, Aiju considers appropriate to regulate their consumption so that children can "perform other activities as important as the game abroad."
The American Academy of Pediatrics defends that children from 0 to 2 years should not be exposed to screens, those from 2 to 5 years between an average or an hour a day and those from 7 to 12 years, an hour and a half maximum. "Technology does not have to be harmful. What is harmful is that they abuse it: the fact that they play many hours with technology, the bad thing is that they stop playing a more active and more manipulative and experiential game ", explains Costa.
Over the years, more sedentary, individual and indoor games have been increasing while active, collective and gambling games have declined abroad, according to the Aiju in their guide. When current parents remember their childhood, the most cited games are rubber, rope and dolls. While the game activities most cited by children today are going to the park, playing with mobile or tablet, drawing, crafts and construction games.
For example, Álvaro García, a 12-year-old boy who watches robots in Juguettos, plays Lego frequently. Although he prefers to use the Nintendo Switch and watch videos on his mobile, according to his father, Juan José García. "He plays two hours a day and sometimes we have to stop his feet," he explains. Álvaro has clear advantages and disadvantages of playing video games: "The good thing is that they stimulate the mind and help you think. But they are bad for the eyes and, in addition, you can be vitiated. "
The addiction to video games is consolidated as a mental problem that affects nine out of every 100 users. "New technologies have addressed all areas of people's lives, including children," explains Costa. Faced with them and the excessive use of screens and technology, Costa says that "traditional toys will always be sold without any technology": "In the same way that we continue to interact with books and there are ebooks, children will interact with toys with mechanisms and without them ".
The National Institute of Cybersecurity (INCIBE) and the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers have made public a"Guide for the safe use of connected toys". Its goal is to ensure the fun of children and adolescents through technology without risks. In it, it informs about the main dangers of this type of technologies and addresses issues such as the use of secure passwords, parental control or the dissemination of images and audios.