The Institute for the Future recently completed a retrospective study for the Lego Group on 7 transformations in how children play and spend their free time.

  1. Social reach – Children have moved to “smaller, more intimate networks” even as the amount of time they spend online has doubled since 2006. In 2000, 55% of teenagers who went online used chat rooms, but this dropped to 18% by 2005, when MySpace usage rose dramatically. Today, they are more likely to be “kid critics” on YouTube and Tumblr. Forecast: “The future will see the creation of more diversified playful relationships.”
  2. Empowered creativity – Children are creating more complex media than ever before, having moved from draw and paint programs in 1998 to homemade videos in 2005 and game construction kits today. Forecast: “Children will continue to demand more control over more complex outputs.”
  3. New visual literacies – With the rise of smartphones and tablets, even very young children are using software: a third of 3- to 5-year olds use apps, and 50% of children over 5 access the Internet every day. YouTube – the most popular search term among children in 2008 – is a popular way for children to learn new subjects. Forecast: “Visual instruction is the way of the future.”
  4. Blended play – The online world is intersecting the real world when it comes to play. Where in 1998, children might play with action figures from games, in 2005 stuffed animals came with digital counterparts and today kids can “scan physical objects onto their computers and breathe digital life into their toys.” Forecast: “The boundary between digital and physical interaction will continue to blur.”
  5. Deep personalization – With the rise of Build-a-Bear in 1998, children could customize their own stuffed animals. By 2005, they could upload toy designs for fabrication from other vendors. Today, 3D printers enable them to create their own toys. Forecast: “Customizing personal toys will become an integral part of childhood development.”
  6. Emotional tech – In 1998, with Furbies and other virtual pets, children could take care of these toy creatures and connect with them emotionally. By 2005, digital pets inhabited virtual worlds, where children could care for them, build them habitats, and buy them items with virtual currency. Forecast: “Children will share an increasing amount of humanity with their toys.”
  7. Tech goes mainstream – Technology has crossed over into the mainstream, with majorities in many countries now having computers, Internet access and mobile devices. Technology’s culture is crossing over as well: in-depth passion on a single subject has become accepted. Forecast: Geek culture will go mainstream as well.


Sources quoted.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.