“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?