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CES: G is for gadgets

Gadgets for grownups may be chock-a-block at CES, but the electronics market for the juice box set is expanding fast. Sales of so-called youth electronics grew 22% in 2006, contributing $1 billion of the516bwqb5cxl_ss500_ $22 billion U.S. toy market that year, according to market research firm NPD. Some gizmos, such as the V-Smile Baby Infant Development System, target kids even before they can walk.

Since Junior is unlikely to have a credit card, gadgets makers instead try to appeal to parents by boasting that their products can turn kids into the next Stephen Hawking. Many, according to a report released Tuesday by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, have no scientific basis for making these claims. Of the 300 video games released in 2007 as "edutainment" titles, only 69 had any educational value and just two were based on any type of curriculum, such as math, science and literacy.

Parents don't have to chuck these gizmos (unless the endless bleeps and soul-sapping songs drive them out of their minds). "Technology is another material for children to actively explore," Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children's Technology Review, said during a talk today at the CES Sandbox Summit.

The event, put on by the Parents' Choice Foundation, explored the question of what kids are doing with technology and what they're getting out of it. Some of the answers were provided by the Sesame Workshop report. Others were provided by a video Buckleitner shared of a 2-year-old playing with the V-Smile, which hooks up to a TV. The toddler ignored the big colorful buttons that controlled the action on the screen (in fact, he ignored the screen altogether), and fixated on the on-off button before crawling away.

Clearly, these companies still have a lot to learn.

--Alex Pham

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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