Digital tweens say gimme gadgets

Duane hoffmann /
/ Source: contributor

Sidney Nicole Popielarcheck doesn’t expect her parents to get her everything she wants as she goes back to school, but it doesn’t stop her from wishing.

In her dreams, she’s writing on a colorful Dell notebook computer and listening to music on a new video iPod.

At 12, she’s still young enough to appreciate the iPod Nano she already has — especially since she’s already dressed it up in sparkly jewels and different covers – but like other kids her age, she’s on the computer — the family’s eMachine — every day. 

“I check my e-mail, look up stuff, YouTube, everything,” says the soon-to-be middle schooler in Washington, Penn. “I also program my iPod — because my Mom and Dad can't LOL.”

Nintendo, Apple and Disney: they’re the ones LOL, or at least they should be, given how popular their products and brands seem to be with a set of up-and-coming buyers: pre-teens/tweens.

If a recent back-to-school survey is any indication, students like Popielarcheck are going to be more and more typical in the near future, with their wishlists full of tech gadgets tailored to help them both at school and at home, and to appeal to their pre-adolescent aesthetics.

In the survey of 500 American children ages 7 to 12 commissioned by, technology figured prominently. While apparel was predictably the most sought after item (75 percent), it was followed closely by gaming systems (73 percent), computers (70 percent), cell phones (69 percent) and iPods (63 percent).

“It’s the overwhelming continuation of a trend between teens and technology,” said Eva Yusa, “Shopping Diva,” spokeswoman and marketing manager for the three-year-old “This is a generation growing up completely online in a way people older than them didn’t. Previous generations had a real combination of people introduced to technology at different times, but this generation really grew up by e-mail and electronic payments. They’re savvy. A lot of things they want really center around technology gadgets of all kinds.”

Also savvy, in her book, are the companies that making products for this age group. Apple, she said, has firmly entrenched itself on kids’ wish lists thanks to iPods, as has Nintendo with its Wii gaming system. She also credits Disney with making products that engage in tween-speak, such as digital video cameras packaged with director’s cut software, which allows them to dabble in amateur movie making.

Claudia Dockery’s wish list falls in line with Yusa’s observations: Nintendo Wii, video iPod and her own laptop.

“I play games and do my homework and write reports on the family laptop, but I want my own,” said Dockery, 12, of Aurora, Ill. “I like it because I like playing games on it in my free time and it’s easy to carry around. If I had my own, I’d carry to my room if my younger brothers are annoying me.”

Yusa described a couple of phones hot with Dockery’s age group — the Kajeet system allows parents to use a pay-as-you-go service through Sprint Nextel with phones priced under $100. The service caters to kids because of specialized ringtones, wallpaper and games. Firefly Mobile has also tapped into the pre-teen market using a five-button design on its handset and enabling parental controls.

For right now, Dockery is content with her cell phone — her first. Her mother gave her a Samsung flip phone she plans to use for emergencies as she becomes more active after school — horseback riding, singing and guitar lessons, the occasional play. She doesn’t text but she likes using the phone to take pictures of her dog and bunny.

“Tween girls will always be into ponies and puppies, arts and crafts and what Lindsay Lohan is doing this week,” Yusa said. “They’re still on the cusp of growing up.”

But with this generation, they’re playing online too.

While her parents look out for her and make sure she’s not on MySpace or IM’ing on AIM, Dockery is hooked on Webkinz, an online community where she maintains 16 virtual stuffed animals and takes quizzes.

Influences on this age group aren’t surprising — friends count for a lot, as do TV commercials and what they see in magazines and on the Internet. If their friends think it’s cool, they probably will too.

Another difference with this younger set — they are NOT about consolidation, so smartphones like the iPhone don’t really appeal to them.

“When you’re 9 to 12, you really love accessorizing and gadgets,” Yusa said. “Kids like a diversification of products versus streamlined and simple.”

If retailers are smart, she said, they would keep coming out with backpacks with special compartments and easy-to-use (or decorate) devices.

Kids, we know what you like, and so do the companies who want your parents to spend money. Keep e-mailing, keep communicating through Webkinz and Club Penguin, they’re listening. Very, very closely. So, keep wishing and maybe those wish lists some year soon will be lists you can check off without a second thought.