I Phones for Toddlers? Techno Tots Aren’t Cute, They’re Spoiled.

August 2009.

This story is just creepy. A three year old in Orlando snatched her mom’s iPod, locked herself in the bathroom,  opened some applications including a real estate site, and later announced, “Mommy, I found a house I like.”

“She will not give us the iPhone back,” said her mother. “She loves playing with the apps; she even downloads the apps herself and buys them. She’s 3 years old, and she’s a little iPhone addict.”

Charming.

The words “addict” and “three year old” probably shouldn’t be in the same sentence, but then again, neither should “iPhone and three year old.”

Something feels very baby Cha-Cha about a child locking herself in the bathroom, mastering her mom’s iPhone and the parent being delighted.

Shouldn’t little ones be scribbling on walls, banging on their fake computer, vegging out in front of Veggie Tales or hooked on
phonetics rather than iPhones?

I know, “Lighten up Laura.” Sure, the mom meant the term “addiction” in the funny non-heroine kind of way but these techno tots are every where now and what’s precious at three, ain’t so cute at 13.

Microsoft doesn’t care, they’re marketeers with a mission to take over the world before Apple does. In their campaign “The Rookie,” adorable 4 year old Kylie uploads a picture of her fish, makes edits and then emails the picture to family.

A scrawled picture with Crayolas would be just fine thank you.  Do we really need to advance the e-skills of a child not even in Kindergarten?

Forget the argument that we need to dump the old toys in favor of  faster and more innovative ones because children need to be  technologically literate to keep up with today’s competitive global marketplace.

Can’t kids just be kids rather than have to think about new ways to bolster their resume while they’re sitting on the big girl potty?

I’m not picking on the iPhone mom.  Kids do these things. Snatching your parent’s cell phone and refusing to come out of the bathroom until you’ve had your phone fix has a sort of sick, and sweet ring tone to it.

The point of the article wasn’t that mom was a freak, but that with advanced touchscreen technology, companies can now market their products to the entire family.

But should they?

I see this techno tot trend as eerie and a bubbling cauldron.  Maybe it’s my issue because no one seems to be  afraid of  families being sucked into all the screens, TV, computers, games and phones.

Highlighting the hilarity of kids using daddy’s Blackberry, are parents who are overly impressed by the growing e-aptitude in their small children.

These are the same parents who en utero prepared their tots for Yale,  so why am I surprised about the latest manifestation of parental bragging rights?

I think it’s time folks hit the pause button and looked inward. Whose dreams are parents programming for success?

When I turned into mom 11 years ago it took me a while to numb to the fact that parenting is a hard-edged competitive sport. Back then, how fast our child walked, talked, pooped, read and kicked a soccer ball were the litmus tests to measure our involvement and prowess.

Although most milestones happened without the premature push of mom and dad, we were hell-bent on raising the bar, and raise it we did.

The latest techno tot trend isn’t about parents accelerating what comes naturally to kids, it’s about deciding what they think should come naturally. I’m pretty sure a three year old downloading “apps” and picking Mom’s real estate isn’t a developmental milestone.

We’ve decided children need to absorb user manuals and navigational tools faster than they should memorize their A,B,C’s.

Even Wall-e had a soft spot for the basics.  He recognized the impending slippery slope of moving so mindlessly and deeply into the superhighways that we forget the human joy and value of walking, reading, breathing fresh air and work.

It used to be children impressed Grandma with a dainty twirl or  singing a little ditty. Decades later pre-schoolers showed off by ordering sushi in Spanish. Now? little Julie gets oohs and ahhs by tapping into the real estate bubble through mom’s iPhone.

While I personally believe bragging about one’s darling is best left for our spouses and the grandparents, who can blame some parents for wanting their prodigy to become proficient in the latest electronics.

But children are paraded about as e- savants.  Sure, we’re genuinely and rightfully proud of our prodigies, but we’ve bought the fear that if our four year old doesn’t master the latest tech toy, adult or otherwise, before they turn six, they’ll be handling big touchscreens at the drive thru window at McDonalds.

I hate to be a killjoy but I still want five year olds to screw up a thing or two. When a child asks her mom if she’s looking up stuff on the “Inter-pret,”  this is sweet and right, not a sign she has a developmental delay.

The day the two year old student surpasses her 40 year old teacher, that kid better not be texting the teacher to get the  snack schedule.  Btw, that wouldn’t be adorable, it would be horrific.  Not LOL.

A three year old’s flawed conceptual take on the e-world rather than a savvy and pragmatic one, is more charming than if she’s standing hand on hip sighing, “Hey Mom, I just downloaded your iTunes v8.0,  now where’s my juice box?”

What parents once thought was rude and obnoxious in children they now find entertaining and adorable because their panic button is stuck. They’re afraid their child won’t be in the same college queue as the three year old who knows how to email a fishy picture.

No worries, there’s plenty of room at the Ivy Leagues, but we’re losing ground in the the character departments.

We’re headed down a dark hole of lost manners, forgotten hand written thank you notes, overstimulated brain cells and a gross lack of humility.

If we really, I mean really want to stop the invasion of the spoiled entitlement generation we all moan about, we have to realize that this attitude wasn’t immaculately conceived, it was programmed.  Kids don’t pop out of the womb with expectations of “do less, get more” because of some random evolutionary code change in their DNA.

We promote this acquisition mentality in our kids whether we realize it or not.  Our generation of  “me that must get more, now,” isn’t by chance, it’s fed, nurtured and imprinted, largely by buying the latest thing with an on button.

Mind you I’m not Amish and I like stuff.   I don’t turn off the TV at night to read and I might be an email addict. We have bags of twisted USB cords wires in the garage and my daughter is cemented to her Dad’s old  Mac Notebook.

But she’s only eleven, so phones and Ipods are off limits for now.  Those are reserved for people who can pay for them and whose hearing and brain are already fried.

I’ve threatened to abandon our family if my husband buys games that hook to the TVs.  I’m pretty sure we’re the only family in Orlando without any station, box or Wii.

My daughter and husband ganged up on me, yelling that Wii Fit was reason enough for me to give in, and didn’t I care about all the exercise they’d get?  I reminded them that once upon a time, long ago people moved their limbs outside the confines of virtual reality, it’s called nature.

My daughter eventually got over the abuse and deprivation. The novelty of new expensive electronics has a shelf-life of about six months with people under age eighteen.

Becoming proficient in all things-electronic might become the new measure of brilliance and good in our society. Wisdom, hard won experience, and the lost art of writing a note, might become quaint notions or worse, fodder for mockery.

Soon enough we’ll have genius toddlers reviewing their parent’s online investment portfolios (what’s left) and yelling, “Dipersify, dipersify your holdings!”

I’m all for giving kids what we didn’t have and challenging their minds with tools that foster critical thinking and problem solving.  Electronic and e-worlds are fun, efficient, stimulating and broaden our access to global information in a way static mediums can’t.

And giving kids hand held devices allows parents a few more minutes of peace at a restaurant or in the bathroom.  Encyclopedia Britannica can’t do that because all our brains have been re-wired  to respond to moving communications.

Technological advances have re-programmed our brains, how we get, give and crave our information.  Still, parents have the power to control how much periphery electronic damage spills onto their kids.

Young ones, IMO, need to be taught, stimulated and guided, not programmed, texted, emailed and Googled.

I’m not a techo phobe. I was searching the Internet before people surfed the Web, before consumers stored their Visa’s online, before people Twittered their day away, Facebooked friends, did SEO writing or any other forms of cyber connection.

While I may not be the first to buy the latest electronic device, (my phone is thick and uncool) this is entirely by choice, not fear.

So to argue that I want to deny kids their rightful place among expensive electronics and innovative devices because I’m afraid of change, jealous or technologically illiterate, would be a lazy argument.

I just don’t think we can ignore that polite, thoughtful, written or face to face  communication has been invaded by expensive electronics, rude emails and texting addiction.

And now we’re gradually spoon feeding all of this technology to pre-schoolers before they even know how to read.

Kids should grow into the e-world in baby steps, through elementary school projects on the computer, with limited phone and texting privileges once they get older.   More importantly, E communication rights should only be given after they complete a mandatory Netiquette and online safety class. They need to know what they’re getting into, when and how to use  it,  or, they lose it.

If parents want to attach a Bluetooth to their head all day, fry their brain and interrupt a friend during lunch to answer four calls from other friends, fine, but let kids grow up before they become wired for rudeness.

I get why Microsoft and Apple are after the youth market. They’re  following the ranks of tobacco and credit card companies to create early loyalists.  Businesses are bleeding and companies need more impressionable buyers to hypnotize into consuming their hip
products.

But the techno tot strategy, while it’s doesn’t destroy kid’s lungs, or immediately spawn a consumer junkie, is a brain wash of sorts.

Whenever a trend emerges that seeps into kids’ brains I ask myself the same chicken or egg question, “Who is ultimately to blame for eating away at our kids attention span, parents or society?”

A corporate conscience would be a nice-to-have but I don’t hold my breathe, these businesses have a job to do.

Parents need to steer the communication style and content in their homes.  Kids shouldn’t be marketed to as little adults with ads for slutty clothes, Bratz dolls, vulgar music, raunchy movies, or overly expensive electronics — unless parents think this is okay.

I hear moms and dads saying it isn’t okay, but still buying that it is.

When the reporter asked the Orlando mom if her child would ever get her own iPhone,  she replied, “That depends on how much Daddy’s app makes.”

Well here’s to the techno tots and the entitlement generation we complain about and then proudly show off.  Maybe it’s time we downloaded a new version of parental control, it seems the current one has a few bugs to work out.

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