It’s 2022 friends, and lets just take a moment to say “WE MADE IT.” It’s been a long year, hasn’t it? So much has changed…and in other cases (COVID) not enough has changed. But one thing is for sure, our digital world continues to move and spin faster and faster all the time. If you ever feel behind, you’re sure not alone!
So we’re taking a step back to look at some of the biggest tech trends in 2022 that will impact kids and families. And it’s not just the facts, but plenty of helpful tips, resources, and ideas to help you think through what it all means for your family.
So grab your party hats and poppers, we’re on to 2022!
1) Virtual reality will become much more real (thanks to the Metaverse)
The growing popularity of virtual reality may have led to some hilarious home videos this year (like this one - just try and not laugh), but for Big Tech companies, VR is anything but a joke.
This past October, Facebook signaled it’s long-term plan around VR with an official name change to Meta Platforms, a reference to what the company has coined as the Metaverse.
What is the Metaverse exactly? The concept is both simple and mind boggling: a vision of the future where human interaction exists almost entirely online through augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR). Imagine a meet-up with friends to “hang out” in a digitally created, immersive 3D virtual world while wearing headsets in separate locations. Or kids attending all their classes with VR headsets, placing them in virtual classrooms surrounded by animated depictions (or “avatars”) of their classmates and teachers.
This isn’t at all far-fetched, in fact it’s already happening, from elementary schools to sporting events, concerts, and more. And Meta/Facebook’s major push in this direction will only accelerate that trend. With all that said, the adoption of AR and VR as mainstream is likely to keep growing, especially as COVID and variants like delta and omicron variant continue to make in-person operations a challenge.
What parents need to know: While the new technology can offer many fun and exciting possibilities, whether for new experiences or learning, it also will further blur the lines between the real world and the digital world for kids. In a 2018 survey by Stanford University and Common Sense Media, 60% of surveyed parents said they were at least “somewhat concerned” about VR for their children. It also presents even more concerning realities for explicit content online.
2) Kids Phones and Family Tech will finally give families better options
2022 might just be the year we remember as the one when parents, educators, health experts and more said “enough is enough.”
According to Common Sense Media, over 53% of kids below the age of 11 today have a smartphone…a powerful, fully functioning smartphone made for adults. Sure there are apps and parental control features and screen time limiters, but fundamentally families face a world where safe solutions for kids are slapped on top of existing tech instead of designed differently from the ground up. With ever-increasing amounts of research showing the negative consequences of early screen time, cyber bullying, social media addiction, and more, it’s about time for something better.
The good news? People are starting to listen…but it’s not Big Tech. It’s new and innovative companies (like COSMO Technologies!) that are reimagining what’s possible for families. The Family-First Tech movement that has started to take shape covers a number of product categories that parents and guardians should know in 2022. Expect to hear more about these trends in the year ahead:
Kids Smart Watches:
These devices have exploded in popularity in recent years as parents look for simple, affordable ways to keep track of kids with features like GPS tracking, calling, messaging, and more. Think of it as a cyber safety belt for kids. It’s the perfect safe first device as an introduction to technology. It just makes sense right?
Kids Smart Phones:
For slightly older kids who are probably begging for a phone of their own, the emergence of safe kids phones is a game changer. While features and models can vary, most offer a simple user experience that prevents harmful content or open access to apps and internet, but still lets parents customize the experience to give kids safe features and functions more akin to a normal smartphone.
Parental Control Apps & Routers
There are now better options than ever for parents who want to keep an eye on their kids’ internet activity or receive alerts when they stray off course. While there are lots of options like Bark and Qustodio, the core features to look for are website traffic monitoring and limitation settings, as well as content monitoring and automated alerts when questionable content comes up.
It’s worth noting that these types of solutions don’t offer the same level of security or content blocking as a closed-ecosystem kids smartphone or kids smartwatch. Many parents have found that tech-savvy kids are easily able to work around parental controls or router monitoring. However, at the very least it’s a great start for adding guardrails in your home.
3) Your home will become smarter. Much smarter.
If you thought robots were a thing of the future, think again. The future is now, friends! Our homes are becoming more wired than ever, from smart thermostats and refrigerators to key locks and garage doors. More than ever before, your life - your home life - can be controlled from the palm of your hand. All this is empowered by the explosion of 5G connectivity that enables more and faster connection more of the time.
In fact, according to consulting firm McKinsey, more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2025. This is what often gets referred to as IoT or Internet of Things.
This trend may be amazing when it comes to keeping your energy bill down or keeping your floor clean without thinking (thanks Roomba!). But this trend also comes with cyber vulnerabilities that families should bear in mind. What basic steps can you take? Here are a few:
Limit your connected devices to what you need
The more you have, the more opportunities there may be for hackers. We recommend being specific and intentional in the IoT devices you bring into your home and limit unnecessary ones.
Make sure your WiFi is protected
This one is simple but probably the most important of all. Make sure your home router has a strong and secure password (sorry, but it’s time to say goodby to Password123)
Keep your devices’ firmware up to date
Your devices will let you know when its time to make an update. For the best security protection, keep those fresh!
Use two-factor authentication
This step is simple but goes a LONG way to securing your devices. Just enable this in your settings to require two separate points of contact (e.g. phone and email) when logging in.
4) Companies will increasingly target younger and younger kids.
If you thought companies like Facebook (now Meta) were on a mission to keep kids safe, 2021 was the end of that. In a series of stunning reports and congressional testimonies this year, we learned that the company knew about damage being done to kids via its platforms and that it simultaneously was constructing a strategy to target younger and younger audiences. Shocking right?
Sadly, we should expect more of that in 2022. As algorithms become increasingly sophisticated and micro-targeted, and more kids come online at younger ages, companies will push to maximize new markets.
How can parents respond? Here are a few simple, but powerful ideas:
- > Consider limiting kids online activity with age-appropriate devices
- > Have an ongoing conversation about the role of technology and media (we’ve got some ideas and answers to parent’s most asked tech questions here)
- > Incentivize as much activity and time as possible outside of screens
5) Cheap tech will become more prevalent and dangerous.
It’s never been easier to sell products online. While lots about that is great for consumers (think of all the options and deals out there people!), it also comes with challenges. In recent years, the explosion of third party sellers on online retail platforms like Amazon has made it hard to regulate product safety.
[Related: See COSMO’s groundbreaking report on kids electronics and the concerning lack of safety certifications]
In 2019, the Wall Street Journal conducted a major review of Amazon products, finding over 4,000 on the site that had been “declared unsafe by federal agencies, [were] deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves.”
This is especially concerning when you look specifically at children’s products and the tragic number of injuries and deaths that still occur because of unsafe, uncertified products.
As companies like Amazon continue to successfully defend themselves as a “platform,” and the market for e-commerce and kids products continues to grow, 2022 will sadly see a lot more cheap, dangerous products enter homes around the world.
So what can families do? Thankfully spotting problematic products online is easier than you might think. Try these simple steps:
Find the company behind the product: Be honest, you’ve clicked “buy now” without ever checking the company behind an Amazon product, right? We have! This year, try always googling the company you’re buying from and make sure they have a real web presence beyond just Amazon - especially if it’s a product for kids.
Look for safety certifications: The world of safety certifications can be confusing (which is why we have a helpful guide for you!) but it’s worth taking a few minutes to look for any claim or details about the testing and standard certifications and company or product has.
Conduct the “sniff test”: This one is the easiest - if you’re shopping online, check to see if the listing sounds funny, has bad grammar, poor images, or has a price that’s too good to be true. If the listing looks wrong, you can probably find something better and safer for your kids.