Yesterday, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue shared this very funny, and very insightful post on the captivating hold his iPad has over his 6 year old son:
I think my 6-year-old is addicted to the iPad.
He asks for it constantly. He wants to use it in the car. He wants to use it at every unscheduled moment at home. He brings it to the dinner table.
When I tell him it’s time to shut off the iPad and head up to bed, or put his shoes on, or head out to the bus, he doesn’t hear me the first three times I ask. Sometimes, he gets bizarrely upset when I say I have to take it away now — out-of-character upset. That’s what makes me think he’s addicted.
And trust me — having read The New York Times series on the physiological effects of electronics on young minds, I’m plenty worried.
Now, before you begin sending the volleys of “bad parent” e-mails, let me reassure you: I’ve described what my son wants, not what he gets. We do have policies. The rule for my three kids is: no electronics on school days except what you actually need for schoolwork. No gadgets at mealtime or bedtime. Gadgets are O.K. when you’re home sick or in the car for long trips.
My older two kids manage to stick with those rules (mostly). My youngest, though, asks for that darned iPad constantly.
And I’ll be straight with you: I generally enforce the rule, but sometimes it’s tough. Because, let’s face it: When he’s on the iPad, he’s happy. He’s quiet. He’s engaged. And in this family, the two older siblings form a tween bloc (my oldest are 13 and almost 12), and then there’s a big age gap. So it can be hard to find activities, games or conversations that involve all three simultaneously.
The iPad is a magic electronic babysitter that creates instant peace in the household. If you told me you’d never, even occasionally, be tempted to hand it over, I’d say I doubt you.
What makes my feelings on this subject even more complicated is that, in general, my 6-year-old isn’t playing mindless video games. He’s not allowed to play shoot-‘em-ups or violent games at all. Instead, he’s encouraged to play creative apps — and most of the time, he does.
He spends hours, for example, playing with Puppet Pals, an amazing free app that lets you create animated cartoons. You choose a backdrop — say, the Wild West, or a pirate ship. Then you drag cutout characters around with your fingers; you can move them left, right, up, down, or forward and backward (they get smaller when you move them farther away). You provide the dialogue yourself. The app records everything you do, both audio and character motions. Later, you can play back the whole thing for your proud papa. Yes, my 6-year-old is creating his own animated shorts.
He also loves EasyBeats, a music app where you lay down one instrument track at a time, as the four-measure pattern loops over and over. He builds complex rhythms, one layer at a time.
Come on, how can apps like that be bad for a kid? Is it really that much different from playing with paper cutouts? Or blocks? Or a toy drum set?
When he does play games, he favors thinking games like Cut the Rope (a clever physics-based puzzle game) or Rush Hour (strategy puzzles). Heck, even Angry Birds involves some thinking. You have to plan ahead and calculate and use resources wisely.
In the old days, we used to tut-tut about how much TV kids watched — but parents usually made an exception for educational shows like “Sesame Street” and “Between the Lions.” How is this any different? Shouldn’t we make exceptions for creative and problem-solving apps?
In other words, I’m doing a lot of thinking lately. Is a gadget automatically bad for our children just because it’s electronic? What if it’s fostering a love of music, an affinity for theater and expertise in strategy and problem-solving? Is it a bad thing for a kid to be so much in love with mental exercises? Am I really being a good parent by yanking THAT away?
For now, I’m trying to live by the mantra, “Moderation in all things.” As long as iPad use is part of a balanced diet of more physical play and non-electronic activities, I think my little guy will probably be O.K.
Weigh in! Do you give your child access to your smart phone/iPad? Are there particular apps that you’ve found to be particularly engaging/effective as learning tools?