iPhones for 3 Year Olds

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I did a double-take. The title of the article was 'Why an iPhone Could Actually Be Good for Your 3-Year-Old?' I really had to look again. In the Boston Globe Magazine this past weekend, Neil Swidey made a case for why these little tots should have the device as well as the 'apps' that go with it:

  • They are naturally attracted to the iPhone or most other gadgets that have interesting buttons.
  • They can figure out how to use it almost intuitively
  • It can be a great distractor in those restless moments that every parent knows.
Swidey tested his notions at the Centre School, a Bright Horizons program in Milton, MA, where he found eager and competent participants. He introduced them to an app called Bubble Wrap. You touch the bubbles that appear on the screen and you get that incredibly satisfying popping sound. With just a little thumb sucking and a bit of drooling, the kids took to it right away. In fact, one little guy had a hard time giving the phone back. You can watch the fun here on boston.com. Swidey pits this technological wonder against the real thing 'actual bubble wrap ' which the children found hard to pop. But let's be fair. Every preschool teacher knows that you use wrap with bigger bubbles, tape it to the floor, and let the kids have at it. It's always a magical 'albeit noisy' moment in preschool classrooms and comes with the bonus of physical activity. Now there's no denying that the children in the video are enjoying the game.

So what's the down side? Children acquire knowledge in a fairly organized, developmental pattern, as Swidey notes, going from the concrete to the abstract. Wouldn't we want them to experience the 'real,' whether it's bubble wrap or balls or trees, before they become too entwined with the screen version? And then there's the nagging reality of childhood obesity. Should we be certain that children have the right balance of active vs. passive activity? Perhaps the answer lies with Dr. Michael Rich. Swidey interviewed this pediatrician who is the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. Rich, too, worries about the overuse of technology by very young children, but doesn't call for a total ban. Instead he promotes moderation which means parents have to be responsible moderators. As he picks up his iPhone, Rich says, 'You know what? It's here to stay. Let's learn to use it in ways that help us and learn to turn it off when it's not helpful.
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