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Smart Phones, Dumb Moves: Should We Be Handing Our iPhones Over to Our Children?

Smart Phones, Dumb Moves: Should We Be Handing Our iPhones Over to Our Children?

“Ok, just five minutes and then you have to give it back.”

I am guilty of striking this bargain, as I hand over my iPhone to my 4-year-old with the sort of resignation normally seen when a cop has to turn over his badge and gun. I am not proud of it, and in my defense, I will say that it is a seldom occurrence, but one that happens over and over again across this great wireless nation. The iPhone, and now the Droid, the Blackberry and all manner of “smart phones” have been steadfastly, and not all that quietly, commandeered by the under five set for the sake of easy distraction and considerable pacification.

Even though the “smart phone” phenomenon, with all of its apps, single finger manipulated appeal, and countless bells and whistles, is not all that new, the collective understanding that toddlers (and in some cases babies) have caught on to this is still relative news. The New York Times recently ran a piece titled, “Toddlers Favorite Toy: The iPhone” that explored the cultural trend of how these early adopters seem to brazenly adopt adult technology on a frequent basis.

As 21st century adults, we all seem to be hopelessly addicted to our little mobile devices with little self-consciousness, and now we have passed along the 16-gigabyte torches to our very young. The NY Times hails the iPhone (in particular) as a device that has revolutionized telecommunications, as well the fact that it “has also become the most effective tool in human history to mollify a fussy toddler, much to the delight of parents reveling in their newfound freedom to have a conversation in a restaurant or roam the supermarket aisles in peace.” Besides offering up parents equal parts guilt and respite, this new audience for the iPhone has garnered some concern among educators and child development specialists.

While the article remains somewhat neutral on any passing judgment on the iPhone as toddler toy, it does give several parental accounts of iPhones hijacked, as well as voice to some of the dissenters in the medical and child development community. Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist in Vail, Colo. said in reference to the misleading appeal of a toddler targeted spelling program: “Any parent who thinks a spelling program is educational for that age is missing the whole idea of how the preschool brain grows. What children need at that age is whole body movement, the manipulation of lots of objects and not some opaque technology. You’re not learning to read by lining up the letters in the word ‘cat.’ You’re learning to read by understanding language, by listening.”

In essence, many think that iPhone (or “smart phone) time for toddlers is akin to any sort of screen or TV time. While it certainly is not as valuable of an experience as reading, creating, or simply being in nature, isn’t regulated iPhone face-time a preferable alternative to the passive entertainment that is television? Or is all time in front of the screen detrimental for children at a very young age? If there is some inherent value to the iPhone, relative to young children (and it can’t be the act of holding it up to your head and waiting for a tumor to form) then what might it be? Should parents (like me) just be emphatic about not handing it over, or are there apps and activities that do help kids learn and grow their cognitive abilities? Or are we all just kidding ourselves to buy some time?

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

42 comments

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6:03AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

I don't have a smartphone and I don't need it.

9:59AM PST on Feb 16, 2012

Insist that they cannot use it while you've let them drive your car for "just five minutes."

9:03AM PST on Feb 13, 2012

I find this very disturbing....but then I'm a dinosaur. :)

10:58PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

I am very stronlgy against iphones for children (and adults too :D) the earlier a child gets such things the more likely they are to get addicted to technology for lack of alternatives and develop an unhealthy sedetary lifestyle.

1:04PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

~Often it seems that the children that have become soooo addicted to our cell phones etc. have at least one adult in their lives that are addicted to them, as well~~Having someone that is talking on the cell phone or texting is very dangerous!~I try to avoid people like this!~I would say, in some instances, this is not helping children to learn!!~

12:47PM PDT on Oct 10, 2011

thanks

8:49AM PDT on Oct 10, 2011

Thanks.

7:39AM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

not to babies. maybe introduse to a 10 year old.
a 3 year old dosen't need an IPHONE.
better yet, somone invent a "working toy" Iphone. like what powerwheels were to real cars.

how much does a baby learn with an Iphone, or how to use it? do they only use it to play the games?make calls? study geography?

12:47AM PST on Jan 16, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:26AM PST on Dec 9, 2010

I find this article to be interesting. In today's society (in the industrialized world), we are so inundated with technology, even from an early age. WAY TOO OFTEN parents allow the television (and probably other technology as well) to babysit their children, and I think it is wrong. I am not yet a parent, so maybe I don't exactly understand all of the work that goes into being a parent, but I have plenty of friends who have children, so I do understand some of it. I have been blessed to be able to observe my friends and their children; I hope that I have learned good lessons that I can apply when my husband and I have our own children. I think it is EXTREMELY important for parents to interact with their children as much as possible. I know that all parents need "me time", but I think it is better to have that time when the child is napping or something instead of sitting the kid in front of the TV (or whatever technology) and ignoring him/her for an hour or two at a time. One of my former co-workers is very adamant about this. She and her husband do not own a TV, which encourages/forces them to come up with activities to entertain their 2-year old. From the time he was a baby, she worked with him to promote literacy. Before he turned 2, he could recognize/read small sight words, count to 100, and was overall very verbal. She says that the only reason her son is as advanced as he is is because they made a DECISION to work with him and be good parents.

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