My 4-year-old is always on her toy cell phone, talking to her “sister,” jotting down phone numbers and making imaginary plans with imaginary friends. Occasionally she’ll man two phones at the same time, and once she even got a text letting her know her neighbor had developed breast cancer. The kids these days! LULLABY! (Laughing Uber Loud Like A Baby’s Yell.) That being said, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that “almost half of the top 100-selling apps in the iTunes App Store were for preschool or elementary-aged children in November 2009,” according to a piece by CNN, the headline simply reading, “Parents using smartphones to entertain bored kids.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never liked watching children play with handheld devices in public. I was 12 when Nintendo introduced the first Gameboy back in 1989, and I remember seeing kids in restaurants as young as 5-years-old ferociously thumbing away at the controls while their parents stared off into space. My parents and I loved going out to dinner together, talking through the whole meal. (Or at least until the cheese-covered onion rings hit the table.)
If the extended family got together and there was a toddler present, they’d be engaged by other family members so as not to get fidgety. Today, it seems, parents would rather hand their child a smartphone filled with apps targeted to toddlers than play Tic-Tac-Toe. I just taught my pre-schooler about the x’s and o’s and she can’t get enough. (We use this super-innovative technology that turns trees into paper and pencils. I hope it’s widely available someday. It’ll blow your mind.)
Carly Shuler of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (a subsidiary of Sesame Workshop) says “adults are taking advantage of the smartphone’s ability to act as a mobile learning or entertainment device for their children.” According to a 2007 study by Sesame Workshop, “93 percent of 6 to 9-year-olds had access to a cell phone in the home and more than 30 percent owned their own phone.” While my daughter does use my cell phone to talk to her father, she doesn’t play with it in any other capacity, and there wouldn’t be anything for her to do on it, anyway. My phone is dumb. It just makes calls and sends texts. And occasionally makes suicidal leaps out of my hands, smashing apart on the sidewalk. But it still works. So maybe it is smart.
I’m no technophobe, but I think there’s a difference between handing your child a toy cell phone with which to engage in creative play and giving them an expensive piece of technology that will isolate them from interacting with the people around them. Sure, toddlers and small children get bored easily in restaurants or while running errands, but what happened to passing the time with I Spy instead of the iPhone?