Babies and iPhones: Is Calm Always Good?

Sunday’s New York Times Style Section included a fascinating article entitled, “Toddlers’ Favorite Toy: The iPhone”.  The article, well-written by Hilary Stout, wrote about how parents are using their iPhones to soothe and entertain their very young babies and toddlers.

The very next day, I was out to lunch with a dear friend and her 19-month old baby.  As our lunch drew to a close, and the little guy got fussy, out came the iPhone.  My friend turned on Elmo, the baby got a glazed, calm look on his face…and it bought us 15 more minutes for our girls lunch.  I saw the magic in action!

So, okay Moms…I’ll give you this.  The iPhone is going to work to soothe and entertain pretty much any darn kid on the planet.  As one of my favorite child psychologists, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek said  in the article, “This is a magical phone…I must admit I’m addicted to this phone.”

But, does the calming effect outweigh the problems?

Here are the Calm Mom’s thoughts:

-Relying on an iPhone denies kids the opportunity to learn self-regulation & self-soothing skills: Babies have been around for way longer than iPhones.  A very important part of child development is learning to self-soothe.  For very little babies, this might mean sucking on fingers or a pacifier or holding on to a blankie or stuffed friend.  For toddlers, this means playing with a toy or chatting to oneself or looking around at one’s environment.  These skills are essential for the rest of our lives!  We need to learn how to be present with ourselves without relying on technology to get us through the day.  I was amazed to read in the article about the mom who gave her child an iPhone on their 15 minute drive to school each day.  What about looking out the window?  Listening to music?  Singing?  Or, glory forbid, actually TALKING?  Beware moms who rely on technology — it only works when it is THERE.  What will happen to these iPhone dependent babies when they need to soothe themselves to sleep at night, or when Mom needs the iPhone to make a work call, or when the iPhone is accidentally left at home before a long outing?  Sounds like a disaster to me… 

-We don’t know what technology does to very young brains: There is a lot of exciting research going on about the effect of technology on our brains.  We certainly don’t know the impact yet, and I would guess the least attention is being paid to the under 3-year old set (who scientists would not imagine would be great users of techology).  I am compelled, however, by Dr. Hirsh-Pasek’s comment about the addictive quality of the iPhone.  There is evidence that getting a ping of a new email message or Facebook post releases neurotransmitters in our brains (admit it, you have seen the addictive properties in your own lives, Moms!).  These days, parents worry about feeding their babies non-organic foods or letting their kids eat Halloween candy that contains food coloring. Come on moms, let’s give some thought to our kids’ brains!  Maybe we are all worrying about the wrong things?

-Boundaries: Allowing your baby to play with your $300 iPhone communicates to your baby “what is mine, is yours.”  Do you let your baby eat off your good china?  Do you allow your three year old daughter to wear your cashmere sweaters?  Go to the ATM and take out some spending money?  No, because these are adult things.  Children actually feel safer if they know there is a boundary between the adult world (i.e., things they don’t need to worry or think about) and the child’s world.  Furthermore, not having everything by the time you are three gives you something to look forward to when you are 30.

-Don’t put yourself in failure situations: It seems that parents pull out technology in situations that simply aren’t suitable to very little kids.  We let our kids watch their portable DVD players on airplanes and on long car trips (over two hours) because we recognize these are unnatural situations for kids who like to move around and play.  If you are pulling out the technology on a daily basis, it is worth asking yourself, “Am I putting my child in too many child un-friendly situations?”  If so, the problem is not the technology per se, it is the life you are setting up for your child.  As an example, if parents take their one-year old to dinner every Saturday night because they want a “date night” but are nervous about getting a babysitter, it might be a better idea to work on getting used to having a babysitter than to have their child sit for several hours, being entertained by a very small phone!

What are your views on this important issue?  Weigh in here by leaving your comments!

3 Responses to “Babies and iPhones: Is Calm Always Good?”

  1. Betsy says:

    I agree, fully, completely and absolutely. What is all this screen time, this frenetic moving of fingers on a tiny screen, relying on made-for-profit “educational applications” for our enrichment, doing to these precious little brains.

  2. calmmom says:

    Thanks for your kind words.

    To sign up for The Calm Mom blog, click on “subscribe to blog” on the right side of the blog page. There are many ways to receive the blog. If you want to receive it by email, click on the tab that says “email” and then immediately on the tab that says “feedblitz”. This will take you to a page to enter your email address.

  3. peter says:


    excellent info, keep it coming…

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