Santa’s Trick or Treat: Discipleship in the Smart Toy Era

In the few days after Christmas, we’ve seen families in new church plants here in Seattle realize they have given their kids new tech toys not realizing these toys are often not a “treat” but a “trick.”

Smart Toys and Secrets

For example, in a recent report on NPR, a new talking doll called Cayla has some serious issues and has been banned in Germany. She sings, talks and listens perhaps too well. A child can ask and a question like “can I tell you a secret?”

Cayla responds, “Sure go ahead: be very quiet though. I promise not to tell anyone; it’s just between you and me because you are friends.”

But anything said to Cayla isn’t secret at all according to NPR. The toy makers are able to listen in learning information about the intimate details of a family’s life including their purchasing habits.

Compromised Smart Toys

Santa’s “Internet of Toys” needs to come with an urgent cybersecurity warning according to Elisabeth Leamy in an article in the September 29, 2017 issue of the Washington Post. “The FBI is cautioning that internet connected toys, also known as “smart toys,” can be compromised by hackers.”

The article goes on to warn these “smart toys” can be compromised by hackers. They can learn your address, learn you children’s names, download your kid’s photos and listen in on conversations.

Imagine how the data collected from “smart toys” could be used to put your children at risk. In response, some European markets have taken these toys off the shelves. In the US child protection agencies encourage parents to disconnect the internet function.

Interact With Advertising

This new “trick or treat” technology can also dramatically increase the capability of corporations to collect information on family purchasing habits to narrow-cast adds to your and your children’s lives.

As you know every time we adults interact with our technology corporations collect information so they can keep targeting us with adds to the product we were looking at.

One example. four weeks ago I did some online research for a new lawn mower to replace my old one that died. You guessed it. I continue to get lawn mower ads every time I go online.

When we give our children smart toys or other devices which capture personal data, we are opening doors for them to be targeted by advertising. We are, in a sense, creating a relationship between them and a third party that we as parents have cannot supervise.

Why Church Planters Should Care

So what does this new “trick or treat technology” have to do with new church planting?

Many of those who are attracted to new church plants are from the millennial generation. Millennials are the first digital generation so they are likely to be among the first parents to have to navigate “smart toys” for their kids.

Even beyond smart toys, there is the proliferation of smartphones, digital assistants and other devices which children can quickly learn to use.

Technology isn’t neutral. It’s a major part of our culture, which means it matters to how we create disciples, including disciples who know how to parent well.

How are you teaching people about technology and discipleship in your community?

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Tom Sine
Tom Sine is a founder of Mustard Seed Associates and the author of Live Like You Give a Damn!: Join the Changemaking Celebration. Tom earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington and has taught at the University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, and Fuller Seminary in Seattle. He speaks widely at colleges, churches, and missions conferences around the world. He and his wife Christine live in an inter-generational community in Seattle where he works with individuals, churches and organizations to foster new ways of affecting organic, lasting change in various sociological contexts.
Tom Sine


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