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Kids play with gadgets more than toys, study says

A study by child-education specialists suggests that playing with touch-screen devices has overtaken Barbie, Ken, and every other form of traditional toy.

iPhoneulink/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Why bother twisting real, plastic arms when you can play twisting games on an iPhone?

What's the point of unpacking a board game when you can alleviate boredom instantly on an iPad?

Kids, you see, don't need the hassle. They just want instant gratification. Yes, they're little adults.

A study performed by child-education specialists the Michael Cohen Group, suggests that touch screens have overtaken all other forms of playful delight for kids.

The research, which examined the world of Digital Kids, shows that more than 60 percent of parents say their kids aged 12 and under play on touch screens "often." And 38 percent apparently play "very often."

Could it be that at least 15 percent don't talk to their parents at all?

These figures put the gadgets ahead of mainstay toys such as dolls, action figures, puzzles, and board games. Even construction and blocks -- that would mean Lego and the like -- are far behind.

Welcome to the new world of play.

Michael Cohen, who led the research, told the Daily Mail: "I have never seen a more intuitive technology for children."

The study showed that in the households where kids had access to a smartphone or tablet, 36 percent had their own device.

"That was in single digits last year," Cohen told the Mail.

You might imagine, or even hope, that the kids are using these devices for learning. There is, indeed, some evidence of educational aspects to the use. But it's clear that the primary need is to play one of the many magical games a device can hold.

This progression seems inevitable. Traditional toys, especially those that haven't really changed in many years, must seem like relics to kids who witness the modern world -- one in which people bow low over their screens and never look where they're going.

Some parents, though, don't seem ready to admit the truth. This study showed that 32 percent of the respondents claimed that a touch screen device was "never" a toy. A mere 10 percent were ready to confess that it was "always" a vehicle of play.

Parents seem to reply to such surveys with a surfeit of self-protection. When asked what criteria was most important in buying toys, No. 1 was "age appropriateness." Number 2 was "educational value."

"Play value" even came below "child's request."

I have a feeling that "I'll get Clarissa an iPhone to shut her up" might be nearer the top of the true reasons for purchase.