Parenting

Should Parents Feel Guilty Letting Kids Play with iPhones?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Is it OK to let your toddler play with your iPhone, or is it just another form of "idiot box"?

The New York Times recently published an article about toddlers' love for the iPhone. Parents all over the US are finding that the phone, with its ability to stream video and its many game apps, is a great distraction for fussy toddlers. But should parents feel guilty about letting kids spend time playing with an electronic device? Is it just as mind-numbing as watching TV? And if so, how much iPhone time is too much?

Some parents in the New York Times article argue that the iPhone can serve as an educational tool for their kids. One mother says she believes the Montessori Crossword app is responsible for her younger daughter's advanced vocabulary skills. Another mom let her daughter take photographs during a shopping trip: this could be seen as encouraging artistic expression. By learning to manipulate various apps, kids are also becoming familiar with the way a computer works: that's surely a skill they will need as they grow up.

Other mothers and fathers face screams and protests from their toddlers if they try to take the iPhone away. One family said they realized they had to set limits after their children watched movies on the phone for six hours during a road trip.

Even pediatricians aren't yet sure how to define iPhone time - one doctor who was interviewed for the New York Times article said that the American Academy of Pediatrics currently classifies iPhone time as similar to TV time, but that its communications board is constantly questioning whether it should be redefined.

As a mother of a toddler, I see two solutions to the iPhone problem. If a toddler seems to be becoming "addicted" to the phone, screaming if it's taken away or demanding more and more time with it, the parents are responsible for setting firm limits on the iPhone's use, and explaining those limits to their child in a way he or she can understand. It's important to remember that parents are the bosses in this situation.

As for educational value, that's also the parents' responsibility. It's a no-brainer that six hours of movie-watching is probably not the best activity for stimulating a toddler's mind. Make sure your child is watching videos for a moderate amount of time per day: treat this time like TV time. The American Academy of Pediatrics says TV is inappropriate for children under two, but older children can watch up to two hours a day. If you're going to let your child use the iPhone for more than two hours a day, make sure you fill the rest of this time with educational, interactive apps that focus on reading, writing, or other important skills.

I believe the iPhone can be a great educational tool for kids: there's no need to condemn it as just another form of mindless entertainment, as long as you don't turn it into one.