There are endless controversies surrounding parents, kids, and technology. Mothers are busy texting while pushing baby-strollers. Digital natives have lived their entire lives with the iPad and iPhone; swiping is second nature. Parents fret over whether or not this portable screen time is bad or not for their children, or if the toddler’s penchant for “selfies” is making them narcissistic.
Ultimately, the questions boil down to: in the age of apps, does the iPad help or harm? NPR recently ran a story on the topic, and as with any new technology, the answer is: it depends. Moderation is key. Television, the once preferred mode of electronic babysitting, only provided for one-way, passive, interaction.
Apps on the iPhone and iPad, however, can engage the child in ways that the television only dreamt of doing. With the ability to do something on an interactive screen, this type of play is essential to learning and a way to boost brain development. As a smartphone app developer, I know how a well-designed app can successfully stimulate creativity, teach, and entertain children.
Some may complain that children still need good, old-fashioned, non-digital play: playing with blocks or reading a book. And I would not disagree.
Instead, I would argue: why not have both? Much of our worries and anxieties around technology hinge upon them being irresistible, addictive devices, monolithic and hard-to-compete with for attention. It’s time to reframe the iPhone, and take them out of our kids hands and place them into, say, a book.
As a new father, I knew I wanted the special experience of reading a physical book with my son. But I wanted the added benefits of interactive apps can provide — and so I’ve spent the past year designing and developing Little Magic Books, on a race to complete the first prototype before my own son began reading.
By placing a smart phone within the context of a traditional printed book, the attention is off of the device as the main point of attention— the technology provides magical interactivity, but the experience is built around turning pages, discovering and reading with your child.
If we stop and think about how else we can make our smartphones work for us, as simply the brains of a toy, rather than the entire heart, soul and body — we’ll be able to take control of the iPhones and iPads, rather than the other way around.