Tuesday 5 March 2013

Toddlers and iPhones: Do you let them mix?

Several years ago I saw a family sitting at a table in a local restaurant. The father was enjoying a mug of draft beer and the mother was sipping a large glass of red wine. But the child, probably about 3 or 4 years old, was completely checked out watching a movie on a portable DVD player. The scene was a bit shocking to me at the time as we were still years away from the introduction of smart phones (yes y'all I'm that old). I judged those parents harshly like only someone who hasn't been solely responsible for caring for children can. When I have children I will never let them be babysat by television. I will use every possible moment to teach, encourage, and engage with my child. 

A decade later I am at dinner with my own wife. She's enjoying a rum and diet coke and I'm sipping the large glass of red wine. And my toddler? He's sitting next to us watching YouTube videos of cats. And occassionally tweeting those videos to my unlucky followers (psst - are you following @monwithmac on twitter? If not this is what you are missing).

But what I didn't understand then was the massive amount of time that parents spend being on with their children. It didn't occur to me that by that point at least one of those parents had probably been awake since the crack of dawn. If one of them stayed at home s/he likely said no 200 times, heard no 500 times, read 27 stories, read one story 75 times, made three meals that were summarily dismissed or thrown onto the floor, made three more meals that were picked at, cuddled intermittently, kissed several bobos, and answered more questions than s/he could recall. So who in the heck was I to judge them for taking a moment to connect with one another?

I get it now. When it's 5:30 in the morning and my toddler thinks it's the perfect time to wake-up I can usually get an extra thirty minutes of sleep by handing him my phone. And when I need five minutes to prepare lunch, or tidy up, or simply not have a toddler use my body as monkey bars, passing him my phone can be a life saver.

And before you get all up in arms about it let me reassure you that I've heard your arguments.
  • I'd would rather teach my child to behave without placation 
  • Kids today need to spend less time in front of screens and more time outside
  • In my day we didn't need fancy gadgets to teach us shapes and colours we used actual books 
  • Smart phone generation children will suffer from ADD, ADHD, Social Conduct Disorder, Dandruff and Gout

So, fine. You are clearly the superior parent. Although I'd like to make it clear that reading books and using technology are not mutually exclusive. I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear an average of 39 times a day.

But there are also a few reasons why I think my son playing with my iPhone or iPad is actually good for him. Yes, you read that right. It's not just a placation tool for me (although sometimes it's totally that) but it's also a learning tool for him. There is an animal sounds app that has done a much better job of teaching him oink, oink and quack quack than I did.  And there's an app that times a cat brushing his teeth that lets me spend a full two minutes with a toothbrush in his mouth.

But beyond that, the truth is that we may have turned out just fine without access to so much technology but we didn't grow up in this digital age. My son will never understand how magic it is to have access to an entire encyclopaedia in something the size of a deck of cards. He will never understand how amazing it is rent a movie without leaving your house and ultimately paying three times the price of the movie in late fees because the video store is all the way across town. And he will never drive himself nuts trying to figure what he recognizes that actor from while watching said movie. He'll just open up his IMDB app and realize that he played a murderer in Law and Order and was the neighbour with a semi regular part on that show he used to like.  He is growing up in in a world of touch screens and instant answers. And I don't feel guilty for preparing him for that.

He can swipe through my phone with his thumbs like an old pro. He can flip through my albums, find Ho Hey by the Lumineers, press play and then hit the little button to make the cover art full screen. He can scroll through my contact list and pick out Tracy's name and can melt her heart when he says "Hi Mo!" as she answers. That's right y'all, at 18 months old he's recognizing letters.

I could tell you that he only uses educational apps but the truth is that everything is education to a toddler. Everything is new and everything needs to be learned. In addition to learning shapes and colours and animal noises he is also learning how to interact in the world he is growing into.

And besides, if Siri is any indication, we will likely soon be living in a world where Sarah and John Connor visit from the future to save us from being enslaved by machines. And if that happens he might as well be chummy with our soon-to-be captors. Really, that's just responsible parenting.


  1. Panda Bear, Panda Bear is our fave of those, but my son recently discovered Polar Bear, Polar Bear so I've gotten a short reprieve.

    1. We haven't branched out in the series yet - I suppose we should. They are such a strange little books but toddlers love them!

  2. Agreed! My son (14 months) plays with my IPhone all the time. Technology is part of his world; why shouldn't he learn to navigate it?

  3. Love this! I think it's great. My 3 yo is having a hard time running the mouse on the pc and I can't wait until she can play Peep and the Big Wide World without my help so I can wash the dishes without hers. As an introvert in a house full of extroverts all moments of peace I can find are worth my kid learning how to use the iPhone.

  4. Another fabulous post! I have battled with this for a whole now - did a bit on my blog about it (Bangkok with Baby post). It's a hard one, but the iPad was sometimes a lifesaver on holiday. Prevented some pretty major meltdowns. :)

    1. It can definitely be a parenting tool at times! We use what we have available to us!.

  5. dandruff and gout! Yikes!! LOL. You've made an impressive argument, as someone who doesn't have an iphone and is struggling with getting my one-year old to start brushing, I wouldn't mind trying one out. It is all well and good for us parents to get high and mighty about screen time but as you say there definitely is a balance: we're not doing our kids any favours by raising them as luddites in a digital world.

  6. You are most definitely going to give your child dandruff by allowing him to use your IPhone :)

    Any words of advice for teaching kids about how NOT to climb out of bed, find your phone and call your friends at 3am? :D

    XOXOX Rianne

  7. Great post! Sarah Connor better bring her cat or Mac's not coming with her.

  8. I don't have an iPhone or iPad. I have a laptop, and a cell phone with touch screen stuff. I don't let my children use my phone because I am afraid they'll break it or call 911 or something. I keep my computer away from my kids because I don't want them to screw it up. I think you're right that our kids need to learn to use technological stuff and I wish I could let my kids use my things but I need my computer to do schoolwork. And my cell phone is my only way to call long distance.

    I wish I could give my kids more, but I think I'll have to wait until I can afford to let them have at it. My daughter is 4 and my son is 13 months.

    Anyway, I love your blog because I love getting another mom's perspective on raising little ones these days. Plus, I learned about Canadian geography from you!


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