Thinking twice tablets for children

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When little, all we used to want for Christmas were our two front teeth and a toy or two--something like Lincoln Logs, Play Doh, and maybe a Barbie Doll, too. Not so much anymore, though. Seems those manifestations of childhood have fallen by the wayside with kids, just like their adult counterparts, hunkering after electronics: smart phones, book readers, and tablets, too.

Retrevo asked adults what they wanted most this holiday season and not surprisingly, 20% said a tablet-iPad or Kindle Fire. Smart phones came in next.

And those goodies now do double-duty as uncontested kid magnets, and toy manufacturers are getting the message and jumping on the band wagon.

Indeed, a recent Nielson survey found that about 44% of 6- to 12-year-olds want an iPad. Yes, you read that correctly. Even six-year-olds want in on the action. Meanwhile, 30% of surveyed kids have their fingers crossed for an iPod, and 27% want an iPhone.

Top all that with Common Sense Media's finding that 40% of 2- to 4-year-olds have used a smart phone, iPad, or video, with that figure jumping to 52% for the 5- to 8-year-old set. Seems parents are into sharing.

No wonder, then, that manufacturers are heeding the call with kid versions of the playthings that occupy so many grown up hours. Take Crayola's iMarker, which turns an iPad into a coloring book, complete with an iMarker that won't scratch the screen. It's designed for little ones three and up.

Not surprisingly, Disney's in it, too, with such offerings as its Spotlight Microphone that plugs into an iPad and lets children sing along with Disney tunes or their own. Indeed, they can even record their own music video.

And that's just the tip of the iPad-reduced-to-kid-size-iceberg with parents no longer needing to hand over their prized gadget. Enter Leap Frog. As its site puts it, "Does your preschooler have iPad envy? Try LeapFrog's LeapPad Explorer, a tablet for the younger set." Indeed, it's designed for 4- to 9-year-olds and is so popular that demand is starting to exceed supply, which is all very consistent with Google's finding that the tablets-for-kids market has risen 2,000% since last year.

It doesn't stop there, though. Next up is VTech's InnoTab Learning App Tablet, with claims that because of it "learning has no limits." It then goes on to say that, "This cutting edge educational toy adapts the technology of mom and dad's favorite touchpad devices into a fun learning experience just for kids." And, like the LeapPad, it's aimed at the 4- to 9-year-old site.

And, in case you need more, the manufacturer adds, "With the new InnoTab?, VTech brings to kids a cutting-edge, multi-function tablet. Interactive and animated reading, educational gaming and creative activities are offered through a cartridge library that features kids' favorite characters. Together with a rich collection of applications, InnoTab provides children aged 4-9 with abundant opportunities for development and fun." So much for Lincoln Logs.

You should know, though, that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says, "Capturing 43% of the vote, the Vinci Touchscreen Mobile Learning Tablet has won the 2011 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) Award for Worst Toy of the Year... The push to convince parents that screen time is educational for babies is what propelled Vinci to outpace its formidable competition."

"While all the choices were horrifying, the Vinci seems the most insidious to me," says CCFC member Anne M. Deyser of Westborough, Massachusetts. "It's likely to convince parents that they are doing something positive for their babies when that couldn't be farther from the truth."

Adds Peggy Sissel-Phelan, Ed.D., of Little Rock, "People don't know that without human attention, babies won't develop normally, much less optimally. They will, however, learn how to push the buttons to make the screen react. Rats can do that!'"

With all that in mind, remember too that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no-screen time of any kind for little ones under two and no more than two hours a day after that. Know, too, that 66% of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of two hours a day!

In other words, don't buy into the notion that these gadgets promote learning. Says pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, "The concept of educational toys, of building brainier babies, is a relatively new phenomenon and has gathered a lot of traction. The scary thing is that most of these claims are completely unsubstantiated. They prey on parents' desires to do everything they possibly can for their children."

So take a different stance and go your own way, purchasing toys that encourage true play and stimulate imagination rather than an electronic gadget with its many bells and whistles. Put books on your shopping list and games, too. And then head outdoors: playgrounds are waiting, as are museums and libraries. Or simply go for a walk, bike ride, or scavenger hunt. Given such alternatives, screens don't stand a chance.

Carol is a learning specialist who worked with middle school children and their parents at the Methacton School District in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years and now supervises student teachers at Gwynedd-Mercy College. Along with the booklet, 149 Parenting School-Wise Tips: Intermediate Grades & Up, and numerous articles in such publications as Teaching Pre-K-8 and Curious Parents, she has authored three successful learning guidebooks: Getting School-Wise: A Student Guidebook, Other-Wise and School-Wise: A Parent Guidebook, and ESL Activities for Every Month of the School Year. Carol also writes for; find her articles at For more information, go to or contact Carol at

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