Should Babies Under Two Use a Cell Phone?

Whether you're for it or against it, cell phone use amongst toddlers is more common than ever. Two experts on either side of the debate weigh the pros and cons of smartphone use at a young age.

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Photography by Christine Persaud

Toddlers under the age of two are using mobile devices. But, is that a bad thing?

A recent study reveals that 38 per cent of toddlers under the age of two have used a mobile device, like a smartphone or a tablet, for entertainment. This includes activities like playing games and watching videos, before the little ones can even speak in full sentences. It’s a contentious issue that has many pointing to the perceived troubles of exposing kids to technology at too early an age. But, is it really such a bad thing?

Differing Points of View
There are many parents who fall on one extreme or another with this topic. Some worry that exposure to mobile devices too early can encourage kids to become detached from others and lack focus and attention, causing parents to rely on technology too much as virtual babysitters.

On the other extreme, there are parents who view digital devices as lifesavers in trying times and perfectly acceptable tools to keep a child from crying or from kicking up a stink at the dinner table.

Neither viewpoint, of course, is realistically healthy. The important thing that’s missing from both is what a child is actually doing with the device and what the parents are doing while he does it.

An Early Start on Technology Has its Benefits
Exposure to technology, under certain circumstances, can be highly beneficial. It’s mesmerizing to watch a toddler dexterously swipe the screen of an iPhone and navigate the menus on a tablet with greater ease than someone decades older. These devices are second nature to this generation and that’s a good thing. Because such devices will be integral to their daily lives, and ours, going forward.

Smartphones as Educational Tools
Jim Steyer, Founder & CEO of Common Sense Media, the family advocacy organization that conducted the study, hit the nail on the head by noting that as long as content and time is monitored, mobile devices can be viable educational tools for kids. Just ask any educational institution that’s integrating tablets into its curriculum. “Technology used wisely is an essential element to education,” Steyer says.

As any parent knows, the educational process begins long before a child reaches school age. There are tons of mobile apps available to teach toddlers everything from their ABCs, to numbers, shapes, colours, object and animal identification. A parent sitting with a toddler for 15-20 minutes a day with these apps is no different than when a parent used those cardboard flash cards, or a good ol’ pen and paper with us back in the day. In fact, it’s far more interactive for the child, both physically and mentally.

The Downside of Smartphone Use
That said, sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to adamantly state that kids under the age of two should not be exposed to mobile devices at all. It’s a well-meaning point of view. After all, there’s evidence of parents using mobile devices as a crutch and studies that even point to kids suffering symptoms similar to withdrawals when denied access to mobile technology. But, it’s too generalized a statement to be palatable in the 21st century.

As strongly as naysayers feel about the issue, attempting to ban toddlers from any exposure to mobile devices is going to be increasingly difficult to do as time goes on and, more importantly, tremendously unnecessary.

 

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