My husband bought our Little Boy a smartphone.
OK, it’s not a real phone. It’s a toy. It has a panel of touch-screen-like buttons and lots of flashing lights and music. Touch the weather “app,” and it will tell you that it’s sunny. Click on the “camera,” and the phone cheerily instructs you to “say cheese!” Basically, it’s the kind of toy that’s going to be awesomely obnoxious on long car rides.
I had a wide range of reactions to the arrival of this toy in my house. This is roughly how my thought process went:
What? Little Boy doesn’t need any kind of smartphone—he’s not even a year old!
OK, calm down. You had a toy phone when you were a baby. (It was one of those classic Fisher Price rotary-dial phones on wheels—remember those? They’re still making them, although they’ve changed the design a little.) This is just what phones look like nowadays.
But… I don’t want Little Boy thinking that smartphones make good toys. Or wanting one of his own.
Let’s face it, a toy phone is going to be the least of your worries in that regard.
Little Boy is going to grow up in a world of hyper-connectivity. He’ll see his father texting on his phone, his mother on browsing on her iPad, and his friends watching movies in the car on their tablets. There’s no way he’s not going to want a smartphone / smart watch / smart pair of glasses / implantable chip / whatever is popular in 5–10 years. And he’s almost certainly going to want it long before we think he’s old enough.
As a generation, we’re forging new parenting ground here, and it’s a little nerve-wracking. I mean, all of parenthood is about making stuff up as you go along. But at least with something like newborn care, you can take comfort in the knowledge that humanity has been doing this for thousands of years. Innumerable generations of mothers and fathers have managed to keep their babies alive without massively screwing them up in the process. We have no cultural history for managing our toddlers’ web use.
I got my first email account when I was in middle school. My parents never demanded to know my password or read my messages, mostly because I was a goody two-shoes, but also because I was old enough to understand that there were some things I just shouldn’t click on. It was also incredibly easy for them to monitor the time I spent online—this was back in the days when you had to yell a warning at the whole household every time you dialed up. “NOBODY PICK UP THE PHONE, I’M GONNA GO CHECK MY EMAIL.”
Consequently, I can’t draw on my childhood experience when it comes to Internet connectivity. We are really going to be making this one up as we go. I guess I better start reading up on parental control settings.
Readers, at what age did you start using the Internet regularly? What are your thoughts and experiences on giving kids access to cell phones and the Internet? Does your child have a musical smartphone toy?