Child's play

It is that time of the year, when the impact of the Christmas splurge starts to hit. If you decided to play Santa with family, loved ones and friends this year, then the maxed-up credit limit on the VISA, and the accompanying impossibly high bills, have probably started flowing in - much to the shock of the rest of your bank balance.

In times past, parents could expect the teenage years to really sap the family budget as peer group pressure and the latest (read expensive) fads left the kids pouting and moody if the object of their affection was not immediately purchased on the afore-mentioned, bulging credit card.

If you are nodding your head in recognition, then you will also know that the most expensive teenage demographic to keep up with is the tech whiz. Not only do they need the latest and greatest PC, with all the gaming doodads, fast Internet access and more, but this new gadget needs to be constantly updated to stay on the cutting edge. And because many of these kids can make a career out of knowing how to turn a PC inside out, and program a Web page, it is hard to walk away from the elegant education argument. Then, of course, they bamboozle you with technical jargon, and make you feel like an idiot. So you cough up the dough.

Well, spare a thought for those with the tech kiddies to buy for, because a look around the Net shows that making those Christmas dreams come true is getting more expensive. And starts at an earlier age.

You may think those silver bikes (Razors) are all the rage for the youngsters (and the funky inner city set). But if you look online for the hot-rod toddler in your life, you can get a custom made Harley! OK - so maybe the bikers in the Cross didn't start out with a Barbie decal Fisher-Price/Harley model, but they would look the part on these pint-size Fat Boys. At a small cost of $US300, I am happy that this is one of those "only in the States" kinda stories.

But not all kiddie toys are just over-priced, scaled-up versions of adult playthings - or are they? If you shell out the big bucks on a tech toy, how do you ensure it will be value for money, and not cast aside as a seven-day wonder? Especially if the target market is four years and up.

Many of the vendors know that for parents to shell out on more expensive toys for the kids, value for money and durability is the key. Gimmick value alone won't get parents to write a cheque for over $200, unless they are Daddy Warbucks.

This month, for example, we take the Lego & Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set for a spin, and it really is designed for the young and young at heart. Plugging into the popularity of Jurassic Park with its set design and blocks, and still allowing compatibility with any other Lego you may have, and bundling in software, and coming with a small digital camera - this is a toy that kids can use, and grow with. While the price tag isn't cheap, Lego knows its customers want value for money, and builds on the notion of its products being passed down through generations as the kids mature. And it will last the distance. As other companies such as Intel, under its IntelPlay brand, release computer-linked microscopes, video cameras and, recently, its sound morpher, there's no denying the growth in the market targeting the latest technology, beyond the CD-ROM and games software, at primary aged children.

What do the kids think? Certainly, the youngsters I saw playing with MovieMaker were happily directing the dinosaur to devour the set as the camera "rolled". Maybe these budding directors were responsible for this year's Tropfest entries.

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Amanda Conroy

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