2018 has been an eventful year in the world of children’s tech, with a mixture of old issues coming to the fore, and completely new things for parents and authorities to worry about. So we thought we’d put together a rundown of the year’s most important trends in the way kids relate to technology – with a sneak peek of what 2019 might have in store.
1. Internet scams have started to hit youngsters hard
In the past, younger people tended to see old people as those most vulnerable to online fraud. After all, people in their 50s and 60s might not have years of experience growing up with computers and may be more trusting than cynical teens.
But 2018 proved this conventional wisdom wrong. Findings from the consultancy Javelin Research reported that over 1 million Americans under the age of 18 fell victim to identity theft in 2017-2018 – and an alarming two-thirds of those victims were under 7.
This suggests that scammers and phishers have targeted the way young people use things like email and social media and that parents need to sharpen up their act to help them adapt.
2. Using VPNs for gaming is becoming a big deal
VPNs have quickly become a fixture among all groups of computer users, but one group has embraced them more than most in 2018. Sparked by developments like vast numbers of Fortnite users losing access to the game’s servers, children have been flocking to Virtual Private Networks.
Now, the servers of games like Minecraft are full of people hiding behind encryption and IP anonymization. And – hopefully – this is leading to fewer DDoS attacks on multiplayer services. At the same time, it should help to force game developers to avoid wholesale bans, which seriously dented the reputation of Fortnite makers Epic Games in 2018.
3. Creativity continues to thrive
Minecraft revolutionized online gaming when it appeared in 2011, and it’s still going strong in 2018. But the venerable construction-based title has been joined by a range of games with a similar theme: allowing kids to express their creativity instead of blowing away enemies.
Take Roblox, for example. One of the genuine gaming triumphs of 2018, Roblox has clunky graphics, but that doesn’t matter. It has the same game-making and world-constructing dynamics. And it’s pretty much totally free, which is why the game has attracted a cult following this year.
However, parents should note that some Roblox mini-games have fairly adult themes – with gore and violence sometimes (definitely not always) involved. So parental supervision is advised.
4. Kid to Kid YouTube marketing has really taken off
A few years ago, advertisers had a relatively simple task. To sell a toy or game, they just had to come up with a tagline, some eye-catching content and spread the word via TV, SEO, and other tried and trusted marketing forums.
But 2018 has shown that marketing is getting younger, and weirder. Now, YouTube is full of videos where kids review products designed for kids, attracting millions of hits. For example, Ryan from RyanToysReview earned around $22 million in 2017-2018.
It seems like kids just love watching people like them grappling with slime or Nerf guns, not to mention video games. And this is radically changing the way toy makers engage with their customers.
5. Parental controls are harder than ever to police
We all know that kids hate having barriers placed in front of them. And we also know that the internet is full of content that parents would rather their kids didn’t see. That’s why Apple introduced a snazzy new set of parental controls for their iPhone X in 2018. And it’s also why kids immediately set about dismantling them.
After setting up acceptable Netflix watching schedules, or access to Facebook, parents started to find that they were totally irrelevant. By diving deep into the iPhone’s settings, kids quickly found workarounds, whatever parents tried to do.
The lesson? Apart from the need to chat about the right way to use the web, it’s obvious that kids are going to be exposed to online nasties like malware or ransomware. So installing a good VPN is essential.
6. Cybercriminals are targeting kids’ games
Another key takeaway from 2018 is that criminals will do whatever it takes to disseminate their Trojans and worms. Early in the year, researchers announced that they had discovered a wide range of children’s games on Google Play which turned out to be infected with adult-oriented malware.
Others were more subtle, trying to entice kids to enter personal details, find their parents’ credit cards, and sign up for services which resulted in malware injections.
No kidding – expect more developments in 2019
As we’ve seen, 2018 has been a busy one in the world of children’s tech. On one hand, new games have offered constructive alternatives to violence, and kids have become empowered to control the marketing of their products.
But on the other hand, it’s clear that young web users are subjected to a battery of threats. So take note of the cybersecurity tips included in this list, and make sure your child is safe and sound while they explore the online world in 2019.