Digital toys for tots are hot this season

With pressure to get kids ready for the digital world, digital teddy bears, cellphones and Barbies are all the rage for the preschool set.

Gone are the innocent days of wooden building blocks and rubber squeaky toys. Children from a very young age are being pressured to be smart, which has created a global toy industry dedicated to educating young minds, reports The Age, an Australian online news source.

Marketers of smart toys are capitalizing on parents' fears that their children won't be smart enough to compete in the digital age. Toy stores are stuffed with brightly packaged learning gadgets and kiddie electronica.

In a recent marketing survey in Australia, about 23 percent of all toys sold in 2005 had some electronic component, according to Philippe Guinaudeau, the business group director of market research group GFK.

"Electronic toys are a dynamic section of the market," says Guinaudeau, calculating that this sector has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past five years.

The toy aisle is filled with toys that would astonish our grandparents. Toys such as robotic pets, toy computers, electronic books and mobile phones. There is even a cellphone for Junior that really works. Called the Teddyfone, it's shaped like a teddy with no screen and only four buttons, including an SOS button that can call mom's cell in an emergency.

What's a toystore without a talking doll? Talking Suzie comes with voice-recognition technology ($250) and Barbie has a learning laptop that promises to teach children numbers, shapes and create music.

Although the toy industry is going digital, the toys are basically the same, says Australian Toy Association chief executive Beverly Jenkin. "Toys still have the same look and feel," she says. "But when you say 'goodnight' to your teddy bear, it now says 'goodnight' back," said Jenkin.

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