As a mom-to-be, I’m looking forward to the day when I can smugly say that my child doesn’t watch TV or eat candy. Which sucks, because I like to watch TV and eat candy. But virtually all child development experts agree that too much screen time (TV and computers) is bad for kids and contributes to childhood obesity (which is why I will also smugly tell people that my child does not get more than half an hour of computer time a day. I plan to be a really smug mom). The jury is still out on newer technologies, like smartphones and tablets, however.
But that isn’t stopping parents from handing over smartphones and tablets to their toddlers. A survey of over 1,000 moms conducted by BlogHER and Parenting Group found that 25% of moms said they’ve let their child use a smartphone before the age of two.
I’ve heard of people doing this—I’ve even seen it once—and I’ve never understood how or why someone would hand their iPhone over to a toddler. But people do it. From what I hear, it’s a great way to keep kids occupied, and this trend is on the rise.
The survey found that among all electronic devices, from hand-held gaming devices and digital cameras to smartphones and laptops, Generation Y moms (those born after 1980) were more likely to say that their child had used the device before the age of two than Generation X moms (those born between the late 1960s and 1980). Where smartphones were concerned, 33% of Gen Y moms said their toddler had played with one, compared to just 20% of Gen X moms. Similarly, 30% of Gen Y moms said that their toddler has used a digital camera, compared to 18% of Gen X moms.
The survey results point to pretty striking differences in generational attitudes towards technology. Is it because Gen Y moms have grown up with the ubiquity of such devices and they’ve become almost complacent in the knowledge that if their toddler breaks their smartphone, they can go out and get another one? Or perhaps it’s because Gen X moms are older and more likely to eschew electronics in favor of healthier, more educational activities.
But more importantly, is it safe? Over the years, several studies have pointed to the detriments of too much screen time, from attention problems and sleep disorders to poor eating habits and inactivity. One study published last summer by Duke University found that children actually scored lower on reading and math tests after a new computer was introduced to their household.
So is it a safe bet to hand your kid an iPad or smartphone to keep him busy so you can catch a few blissful minutes of silence? It’s probably not going to hurt anyone, assuming the screen time is kept to a minimum. But I can’t imagine too many people are willing to let their toddler walk off with their iPhone and play with it unsupervised for hours on end. But then again…that’s one of those things that people do that I just don’t get.