Experts Worry Toddlers Are Becoming iPhone Addicts

Illustration for article titled Experts Worry Toddlers Are Becoming iPhone Addicts

For some toddlers today the venerable "toys of choice" are not dolls or blocks, but iPhones. Experts worry their development is hampered by this "screen time." I'm inclined to argue every generation has its vices and parents need to parent.

Touchscreens and ultra-portable communication devices are the inevitable future, you see, and as long as little Susie isn't staring into a screen for six hours at a time like a little pink zombie, what's the harm in her becoming acclimated with the tools she'll be immersed in when she's older?

But lest you be distracted from the research by my unhinged ranting, here's what's happening with the toddler sect today, according to a series of interviews on toddlers and iPhone usage in the New York Times:

Natasha Sykes, a mother of two in Atlanta, remembers the first time her daughter, Kelsey, now 3 1/2 but then barely 2 years old, held her husband's iPhone. "She pressed the button and it lit up. I just remember her eyes. It was like ‘Whoa!'" [...] Kelsey would ask for [the iPhone]. Then she'd cry for it. "It was like she'd always want the phone," Ms. Sykes said. After a six-hour search one day, she and her husband found the iPhone tucked away under Kelsey's bed. They laughed. But they also felt vague concern. Kelsey, and her 2-year-old brother, Chase, have blocks, Legos [sic], bouncing balls, toy cars and books galore. ("They love books," Ms. Sykes said.) But nothing compares to the iPhone. "If they know they have the option of the phone or toys, it will be the phone, " Ms. Sykes said.

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No kidding! Crazy thing: I've seen little kids do the exact same thing with ice cream. I've even seen parents deny their kid this ice cream. The kid totally survived not getting the ice cream! Wild!

Here's the other thing. When I was growing up in the tumultuous 1980s, with its creature features and gyrating Alicia Silverstones on Music Television, I had this temptation called "TV," and also these "VHS tapes" of movies that I'd tape off that TV. I'd watch them for hours on end before the tape literally wore out. During grade school I'd watch the grainiest Star Wars tape in existence every day after class until I literally had the dialogue memorized.

My parents obviously recognized that this wasn't healthy. They enrolled me in a local soccer league and encouraged me to start playing an instrument (the violin). They sat down with the family every night for dinner and talked. Ultimately I survived the big bad television that was supposedly rotting my brain. Crazy!

If something like an iPhone is a complementary part of a young person's life, in this day and age, that's completely fine. It's how life is, and will be, and is also a testament to how Apple was able to create and design a mini computer that's betwixt adults and children alike. Hell, even the experts are starry-eyed. Isn't that right, anti-iPhone psychology professor Kathy Hirsh Pasek?

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychology professor at Temple University who specializes in early language development, sides with the Don'ts. Research shows that children learn best through active engagement that helps them adapt, she said, and interacting with a screen doesn't qualify. Still, Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, struck on a recent visit to New York City by how many parents were handing over their iPhones to their little children in the subway, said she understands the impulse. "This is a magical phone," she said. "I must admit I'm addicted to this phone." - NYT

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I hope she wasn't checking email on her iPhone while giving the NYT that interview. That would have been so passively engaging!

But enough. Giving into your grabby kid when they drool over a Retina Display is an impulse. One that can be resisted. If you're a good parent.

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It's not the iPhone's fault that your kid stares at a screen for six hours and doesn't have the communication skills necessary to make friends. It's yours. Do your job. [New York Times, Image: NYT]

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DISCUSSION

It really irritates me when some expert takes the "zero tolerance" stand on something that might be harmful to a child only in great excess. Why can't "moderation" be the tone of the advice? Because with a child, moderation is almost always the right answer (unless we're talking about a shot of whiskey, in which case "zero" is probably the best way to go).

Oh and let me clue in the "expert" on something: the reason you are seeing a lot of children on subways with iPhones is because they are on the subway. A subway ride is pretty damn boring for a toddler. The parents' options are (1) adequately entertain the child, or (2) rope the child down in the chair and put your hand over his mouth so he doesn't run down the train or scream his head off. It just so happens that the iPhone is a GREAT way to entertain the child, and it can be with their favorite TV show, educational app, or whatnot.

My 2 year old daughter uses both my iPhone and iPad, and loves it. The interactivity offered by a touch screen device and the amazing quality of kids apps cannot be matched by ANYTHING else out there. But she loves lots of other things too (toys, outdoors play, etc.), and if she logs 3 hrs in a week on my gadgets, that's a busy week. I gotta say, our iPad has allowed us to still go to restaurants where otherwise she just might not tolerate more than 20 min. She's happy, we're all happy.

Sure, there are some kids that go bonkers over iPhones like a dog over a laser pointer, and in those cases you might have to go to zero tolerance. But that's an issue with the child, not the device, and parents just need to be observant and deal with it.