Is the iPhone Harmful to Kids?

Photo Courtesy of ell brown

You’ve probably seen it before: you’re in a store, and a small child is tugging at his mother’s shirt every three seconds making it next to impossible for her to shop. She reaches into her purse, pulls out her iPhone, and hands it to the child. He is esctatic, and spends the rest of the shopping trip quietly engaged while Mom can get her shopping groove on.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Entertainment vs. Education

There are some voices out there who criticize the use of an iPhone by a child, much like they would decry the use of television, DVDs or handheld gaming systems. They suggest that these entertainment devices provide little value for the child, and that they simply occupy the child’s mind with useless, repetitive activities.

On the other hand, there are folks who see an iPhone (or any of the other entertainment devices mentioned) as a potential learning tool. Many of the games aimed at young children available for the iPhone are educational in nature, from Oregon Trail to the plethora of apps that can be used to help learn the alphabet. They also argue that learning to use the iPhone increases the child’s overall technological proficiency.

Gratification vs. Interaction

There’s another aspect that some folks suggest may be a problem with the iPhone and children. They argue that simply handing an iPhone to a child provides instant gratification in the face of boredom, as opposed to the parent taking the time to interact with the child or to play with the child.

Others would suggest that the issue of instant gratification is a bigger issue, and not related to the iPhone. If a child demands a candy bar and the parent immediately hands her a candy bar, the candy bar is not to blame. Parents who use an iPhone (or a candy bar) for instant gratification are responsible in this kind of situation.

Boredom vs. Patience

Along those same lines, there are those that argue that giving a child access to an iPhone when he’s bored eliminates boredom. This isn’t always a good thing, because it sends the message that the child never needs to be bored, that he can always be entertained just by asking. He doesn’t have to wait until the end of the shopping trip and arrive at home before he can play – he can play right now.

Here again, opponents of this line of thinking would suggest the problem is with the parenting, not with the object (in this case, an iPhone). Parents who refuse to ever tell their child “not right now” are far more harmful, in terms of the issue of patience, than the existence of the iPhone.

So, who’s right?

There is a case to be made on both sides of the argument here. Sure, there are some compelling reasons to think that allowing a child to use the iPhone can contribute to a lack of patience. Some apps certainly have little educational value, as well. On the other hand, parental oversight and responsibility probably ought to play a big role overall in a child’s use of any technology.