iPhones and Children: A Psych Problem Waiting To Happen?

This image described by iPhone, children, viewing habits, psychology, Levi_iPhone-1
What a difference two years makes…

It was back in December 2008 that CNET blogger Stephen Shankland wrote “A computer revolution through a child’s eyes,” in which he proudly boasted how quickly his three-year-old son Levi (seen above) had gotten the hang of his dad’s iPhone.  Thanks to Apple’s ultra-intuitive interface, Shankland reported, “[Levi] had figured out how to flip from one photo to another by flicking his finger across the screen. He understood with no coaching how to steer the simulated steel ball around the holes in the Labyrinth game by tilting the phone. He loves to type nonsense words on the notepad application using the virtual keyboard, deleting them once they’ve been read. In the three months since I got the iPhone 3G, Levi has learned to take photos, browse them, change the phone’s wallpaper, and, unfortunately, turn off Wi-Fi and switch on airplane mode.”

Aww, how cute.  Or not, if a recent New York Times story has anything to say about it…

According to “Toddlers‚Äô Favorite Toy,” writer Hilary Stout also began with anecdotes of how quickly infants and toddlers become fascinated, then proficient, with their mommy’s and daddy’s iPhones, as well as the mass of iPhone apps geared towards the very young.  But the story quickly veers into a more cautionary tone:

Along with fears about dropping and damage, however, many parents sharing iPhones with their young ones feel nagging guilt. They wonder whether it is indeed an educational tool, or a passive amusement like television. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advised parents not to let their children watch any TV until they are past their second birthday.

Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist in Vail, Colo. said: “Any parent who thinks a spelling program is educational for that age is missing the whole idea of how the preschool brain grows. What children need at that age is whole body movement, the manipulation of lots of objects and not some opaque technology. You’re not learning to read by lining up the letters in the word ‘cat.’ You’re learning to read by understanding language, by listening. Here’s the parent busily doing something and the kid is playing with the electronic device. Where is the language? There is none.”

Jack Loftus at Gizmodo picked up on the story, duly reporting on the official concerns while adding his two cents worth:

I had this temptation called “TV,” and also these “VHS tapes” of movies that I’d tape off that TV. I’d watch them for hours on end before the tape literally wore out.

My parents obviously recognized that this wasn’t healthy. They enrolled me in a local soccer league and encouraged me to start playing an instrument (the violin). They sat down with the family every night for dinner and talked. Ultimately I survived the big bad television that was supposedly rotting my brain. Crazy!

…But enough. Giving into your grabby kid when they drool over a Retina Display is an impulse. One that can be resisted. If you’re a good parent.

So is the New York Times overstating the problem?  And/or is Gizmodo right in asserting that it’s not that serious, much less an iPhone-specific issue?

Allow some more medicos to weight in.  Only days before the Times story, MedPage Today posted an article in their General Pediatics section, “Too Much Screen Time May Up Risk of Kids’ Psych Problems.” Their conclusion?  Excessive TV or even computer-screen watching resulted in a 61% increase in the risk of “increased psychological difficulties — including hyperactivity, emotional, concentration and conduct problems, as well as difficulties with peers.”  (Mind you, the report added a take-with-a-grain-of-salt disclaimer that the study group was from a single predominantly urban area in England, the screen time was self-reported, and viewing content and parental psychology were not factored in.)

So it would appear that young children becoming comfortable, even proficient, with their folks’ iPhones can be a good thing, but parental control and moderation would be the key.  Well, isn’t that true of just about ANYTHING?

About Dactyl Anapest

Google + Profile