Touch-screen kids

In The Touch-Screen Generation in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin visits a Monterey conference for developers working on phone and tablet apps for children, starting with babies and toddlers. Some brought their own children.

The 30 or so children here were not down at the shore poking their fingers in the sand or running them along mossy stones or digging for hermit crabs. Instead they were all inside, alone or in groups of two or three, their faces a few inches from a screen . . .  A couple of 3-year-old girls were leaning against a pair of French doors, reading an interactive story called Ten Giggly Gorillas and fighting over which ape to tickle next. A boy in a nearby corner had turned his fingertip into a red marker to draw an ugly picture of his older brother. . . . Some of the chairs had pillows strapped to them, since an 18-month-old might not otherwise be able to reach the table, though she’d know how to swipe once she did.

Rosin, the mother of three, worries that digital technology will turn out to be bad for children’s development. The developers worry too, she discovered. A mother of four, who helped develop an app that teaches spelling to preschoolers, said her children don’t play many games.

“We have a rule of no screen time during the week,” unless it’s clearly educational.

. . . “On the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.”

Other developers who were also parents had similar restrictions. “One said only on airplanes and long car rides. Another said Wednesdays and weekends, for half an hour. The most permissive said half an hour a day, which was about my rule at home.”

Yet interactive games can help children develop skills, writes Rosin. And they can be a lot of fun. She likes a Swedish game called Toca Tea Party, which lets kids throw a party for their dolls and stuffed animals, spill all the tea they want and wash up afterwards.

The game is either very boring or terrifically exciting, depending on what you make of it. . . . Maybe today the stuffed bear will be naughty and do the spilling, while naked Barbie will pile her plate high with sweets. The child can take on the voice of a character or a scolding parent, or both. There’s no winning, and there’s no reward.

When she let her toddler son play with the iPad as much as he liked, he devoted three two-hour sessions a day to it — for 10 days. Then he forgot about it for six weeks. “Now he picks it up every once in a while, but not all that often.”

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