Technology: Digital generation
November 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Photo - Shutterstock

With the demand for hi-tech presents sure to hit new heights this year, should we be worried that playtime has gone digital?

When my son sat down to write his Christmas list (in June), it was topped by a computer game, followed by three gaming apps, a plaintive request for "my own tablet" then – at last – a "proper" toy: some Lego. His main worry was whether Santa would have the technical know-how to deliver the apps on Christmas morning. Mine was whether it's healthy for a seven year old to show so little interest in traditional, physical toys.

Research shows that 78 per cent of UK children aged five to 11 asked for a hi-tech present last Christmas – a figure certain to rise this year.

The survey also found that many parents feel as uncomfortable as I do, with 46 per cent saying the gadgets were too expensive and their children too young.

Manufacturers now accept that the market for toys ends at nine, compared to 11 just 20 years ago. That may seem a pity, but it's not all bad news: it seems that digital toys can actually encourage creativity, boost imagination and even help development.

A recent study at the University of Oxford found that children who played video games for an hour a day or less were happier, and had fewer emotional problems and better social interactions than those who played none (though those who played for more than three hours a day were more troubled than both).

What's more – children look away now – there's some research from the University of Geneva showing that shoot-'em-up video games can lead to better attention, visual spatial processing skills and memory.

The benefit – or not – of this playtime revolution depends on two things: the tech toys you choose and how they fit in to your child's play "diet", says psychologist Amanda Gummer of the website Fundamentally Children, which runs the Good Toy and App Guides.

"Parents should see screens as the sweets and crisps of the play world – treats they love but that shouldn't replace other essential types of play such as a game of football outside or playing I-spy in the car," she says.

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