Parents have used electronic babysitting for a few decades now and the latest version of this is the innumerable smartphone apps that target kids. While there has been much hand-wringing about the appropriateness of using television and computers to keep children occupied, the truth is these devices have helped parents immensely. They are a substantial influences on children and it has made sense to make them educational to take away some of the guilt of using them as parenting aids!
In the case of smartphones, it became apparent early on that these mobile devices are great for engaging children when away from home. Sitting on the sidelines for an older sibling’s basketball practice, waiting in line to renew mom’s driving license, grocery shopping all became smoother and calmer when the child could use a smart phone. While regular cell phones also offer games for entertaining kids, the tactile touch screen option of the iPhone and Android phones have made them a particular hit with kids – from toddlers through high school and beyond. Games and entertainment fit in well with touch screen models.
A 2007 US survey showed that 93% or 6-9 year olds had access to a cell phone with 30% having their own cell phone. These numbers have steadily increased and the Sesame Workshop states that most children in the US today have daily access to a mobile device. It is no surprise that now there are many apps targeting children. Even when parents are the people who own the phones, the app users are often children and even toddlers.
It was hard to resist titling this blog something like “Smart Phones, Smarter Kids,” but I felt that would be too obvious. And not entirely true. While there are a remarkable number of educational apps that allow children to learn and grow while playing a game, there are quite a few that are, shall we say, less educational? The truth is there will always be a mix of apps – some that offer creativity and fun and others that are mind-numbing. Isn’t this true of everything from children’s television programs to school teachers?
I like the promise of cell phone apps for kids. Their portability and ease of access makes them a dream for harried parents. I do not advocate that they be used indiscriminately. After all more lessons are learnt from observing life around us than from solving a few problems on a screen. I do see that judiciously chosen apps, such as those that offer slides and oral narrative of stories, those that offer doodling and painting options, can work in the busiest of airports and noisiest of restaurants. That is unquestionably real smart phone use!