I bought my two year old a smartphone.
I’ve written about our irrational fear of smartphones. I’ve written about the increasingly simplistic discussion of children and “technology”. I expect to encounter plenty of hang-wringing over my decision to buy my toddler a smartphone.
But I’m up for the discussion. Let’s take a look at some of the objections to smartphones for kids, and then I’ll show the benefits.
Here’s an article addressing some possible pitfalls with children’s use of media devices. It’s not too alarmist, despite using the lazy “technology” wording and a couple of nods to “obesity” (see #12). Almost every single objection should come with the disclaimer “sometimes, for some people, in some families, in certain situations”. Nevertheless, let’s see what they say.
It may interfere with sleep. Does it or doesn’t it? If Dylan has trouble falling asleep because of using his smartphone before bedtime, then we can alter his use. But why worry about things that aren’t happening? Last night we watched a YouTube video together of steam trains going by. It was a relaxing way to prepare for bed. The article says sleep is a challenge for “busy kids today who often have homework and after-school activities crammed into their weekdays and extracurricular activities and sports on weekends.” That’s a specific kind of kid with a specific kind of life. We don’t need to follow advice made for those families.
It may cut into family time. This is also about a specific kind of family and doesn’t apply to everyone. I am a stay-at-home mom, and Dylan’s dad is a work-from-home-dad. I spend 24/7 with Dylan, and his dad spends about half of every day with him. We have plenty of family time. Plus, sometimes smartphone time IS family time. We play games together and watch videos together.
It may encourage short attention span. I’m suspicious of claims about attention. I wonder what counts as a short attention and what is being ignored. Is the child accustomed to the rich, multimedia, interactive nature of a smart phone? Are they having trouble paying attention to the boring teacher drone on about irrelevant shit for 6 hours a day? Maybe the problem isn’t the device.
It may interfere with schoolwork. Not relevant to my family, and I hope it never will be.
It may lead to less physical activity. How much is enough? How much is too little? Who gets to decide? Dylan currently spends a good part of his day wandering our property, climbing over fences, climbing onto the tractor, and chasing chickens. Inside we do morning stretches together, and we dance. His time on his smartphone is part of our indoor activities when we are sitting about doing “nothing”. It doesn’t replace his outdoor ones. It doesn’t replace our other physical activities.
It may expose kids to too much advertising and inappropriate content. Okay, here’s an objection I can get behind. I do worry about content, and I hate advertising. For my two year old’s smartphone, I have downloaded approved apps, and he can’t access other parts of the phone.
Most articles only address the concerns about media devices and children. They ignore the wealth of benefits to a child with a smartphone.
It promotes computer literacy. One article I read makes the absurd suggestion to ban handheld media devices for children under 12. A child today with no access to a smartphone or tablet will fall behind in mastering these devices. By the time my child is 12 I expect him to use his smartphone as a GPS, a research assistant, a calculator, a way to communicate with friends and relatives, a camera, and more. Have you ever seen someone use a mouse who didn’t use one as a kid? It’s not pretty. I’m not going to hinder my child’s participation in the modern world out of a vague fear of “technology”.
It facilitates learning responsible use. Like banning sex, banning alcohol, and banning “bad” friends, banning doesn’t work. It doesn’t prevent children from doing it, and it does lead to greater irresponsible use. The more intelligent path involves education and parental involvement.
It’s educational. There are such a wealth of apps available for smartphones, even in the toddler age-group. Dylan is currently using his smartphone to learn new songs, identify animals by their sounds, play with colors and drawing, learn physics in realistic racing games, identify types of vehicles, and learn the alphabet and other early reading skills.
It’s “just like Mom and Dad”. I have a smartphone. Joshua has a smartphone. I have a laptop. Joshua has two laptops. My job is on the computer. Joshua’s job is on the computer. We are a plugged in family. We speak meme. Yes, there are some things that we do as adults that Dylan is not allowed to do. But to add something to that list, it needs to be clearly only appropriate for adults. Smartphones do not fall into that category, at all. It is therefore completely natural that Dylan’s participation in our family involve one of his own.
But Why A Two Year Old?
After saying all that, you still might wonder why I bought my 2 year old his own phone. Why not wait? I expect a lot of people will question this choice. One reason is that I don’t want him using mine. I’m using it! My other reasons might surprise you, though. I think if you look critically at other toys that are available for young children, the smartphone choice makes a lot of sense.
It’s cheaper. Dylan’s phone cost about $50. Does that sound expensive for a child’s toy? I get a lot of Dylan’s toys from the thrift store, but they are often mismatched and half broken with a limited window of usefulness. When I buy a “real” toy that has some developmental benefit, it typically runs $25-$40 dollars. Then you have things like LeapFrog devices which are computerized toys for small children. “Tablets” for kids. “Laptops” for kids. Interactive computer-enhanced reading and writing devices. These things are expensive, especially since many parents keep buying new ones as their child grows. The LeapFrog “tablets” run from $80-$150. They are limited use devices, since they are only compatible with LeapFrog programming. Why would I buy something like that when for $50 I can give my child access to every Android app that exists?
It replaces lower quality toys. If you look around at a young child’s collection of toys, you are likely to find many things that light up, beep, and “talk”. Many kids’ toys have “screens” these days, to show a little picture or pattern. There are blinking lights. There are whirs, beeps, and rattle noises coming out of almost everything. Even toy kitchens today bypass imagination and make “sizzle” sounds from the pretend stovetop. I love wooden toys, but beeping things do make their way into Dylan’s toybox. The one LeapFrog “laptop” we bought Dylan is a sad, pathetic toy in comparison to the smartphone. Unlike other electronic children’s toys, the smartphone has a clear picture, clear sounds, quality programming, and is intuitive to interact with.
I love watching Dylan discover new things on his phone. His favorites run from a simple xylophone app to watching YouTube videos on how to make engines. I couldn’t ask for a better toddler toy. And neither could Dylan. He loves it, of course!
What do you think about our peculiar fear of this powerful, useful, awesome technology? When are your kids going to get their own smartphone or tablet?