Do you let your kids play with smartphones or tablets?

This is typically a hot button topic that I hear a lot about.

It's something that I never really gave much thought to until Penelope started getting old enough to show interest in my iPhone and iPad. I assumed we still had some time before she would want to play with them, but she's not dumb. She sees Mom and Dad with them and already can tell that phones and tablets are super fun toys.

To back up for a minute, I guess we should start with TV time. When it comes to TV, I never balk at setting her down with some Mickey or a movie. She is an active little girl. She's out everyday at daycare, running around, exploring and learning. On the weekends we are all over the place. So I have no problem with her relaxing and having some quiet time in the mornings and evenings with some TV. And let's face it...I'm a bit of a TV addict though I like to think I go beyond couch potato status in that I really appreciate, analyze, and once hoped to write for, the wonderful invention that is television. 

The topic of screen time is pretty polarizing. Parents who don't let their kids use screens are adamantly opposed to their effects and speak up about it. And find a parent who does let their kids watch TV and play iPad games, and I guarantee the first remark is one of slight defense and assuring you that it's all educational programming and games. Hey I'm not judging. While I like to think that everything Penelope watches and does is educational, that's just not the case all of the time, and I don't feel the need to defend that. Sometimes, things can just be entertainment. Though I'll admit, I do prefer educational programming and toys when possible.

So in short, P now watches TV, movies and recently, began playing some puzzle games on the iPad.

When we went to Aruba in July I had downloaded a few simple games to serve as entertainment in case of a code red meltdown. I was so glad I did. Peek-a-boo Barn kept her entertained for a solid two hours. And I guarantee the people around me weren't judging me for throwing my kid in front of a screen, but instead applauding me for keeping my kid quiet (mostly) for 5 hours, regardless of the means.

Now that Penelope is knocking on age 2, she plays some more sophisticated puzzle games. It's unreal to me how intuitive the iPad is. P learned pretty fast how to swipe to open, where her little folder is, and amazingly, mastered some of the puzzles quite quickly. Every night if she sees the iPad on my desk, she wants to do some puzzles.

And is that bad? We are raising a generation with more screen time than ever before. Schools are using technology as learning tools. Businesses use tablets for presentations and beyond. So is it so bad for children to learn these tools from the get-go? Or is this just evolution? I'm the last generation to grow up to teen years with essentially no Internet. I had AOL in high school which was a BIG deal...Facebook was invented when I was in college. I didn't grow up with a smartphone or any cell phone for that matter. My screen time was Fraggle Rock on VHS loop. Now, I work in an industry where I sit in front of a screen for 80% of my day. I use iPads all the time for work and this is a necessity. Even in my free time, I choose to write this blog which is additional screen time. But I feel fulfilled by it.

So if we have the tools to teach our kids and prepare them from a young age, then why wouldn't we?

I'm still skittish about too much technology too soon, because after all, we truly don't know just yet what it means for children growing up with it in their face all the time. For now, a few minutes a night or every other with unlimited amount in a meltdown situation (e.g., on an airplane, while out to dinner, etc.), seems to work fine for us and that's enough to not make me worry but also feel accomplished that Penelope is starting to utilize these life tools. The good news is that for now, Penelope doesn't ask for the iPad. If she sees it, then she wants to play, which lasts for 5-10 minutes. If it's out of sight, then it's out of mind. And I haven't decided if that's good or bad.


So parents of kids young and older, what do you think about smartphone and tablet time? What is the right age to begin sharing these things with your children? And if your kids do use them, do you limit their time?