With the holidays recently passed, many parents are coping with the a new situation. Their young children have been given a tablet or other mobile device even though, frankly, not all kids are mature enough to handle the responsibility.
Last week the WP published a column by the mother one such child. A close fried had given the writer's 5-year-old a Fire tablet:
We also agreed that our daughter would love it – after all, she always asked to play on Papa’s iPad whenever he visited, and she was fascinated by her cousin’s tablet. But she’d never had one of her own, and frankly, the idea of getting her one hadn’t crossed our minds.
Suddenly, we were faced with the prospect of our kindergartner owning a tablet, on which she could play games, practice reading, or surf the Internet. On the one hand, it sounded innocent enough. After all, we want her to be comfortable with technology and keep up with her peers. There are plenty of educational apps for young kids – not to mention opportunities for her to keep busy during long road trips or stints at the doctor’s office. Plus, it was a gift from a family member, who wanted to share something special with her during the holidays. We couldn’t object to that.
The mother raises a number of concerns, including not being able to supervise what the child is seeing, the possibility of "digital addiction" (getting the kid to stop watching TV is already a hassle), the risk that the tablet could be lost or stolen, sibling bundaries, etc.
She also worries about parental controls, which is non-issue; most of the parents I have asked abut this issue feel that parental controls are a solved issue (my words, not theirs).
And then there's this:
I’ve seen too many kids who’ve lost the art of eye contact, their attention perpetually focused on their fingertips. Who am I kidding? You can add me to that group.
I have that same problem, and since I don't know of a solution I would suggest that kids be kept away from mobile devices - at the youngest ages if nothing else. Introducing them to tablets at a young age might help them learn coping mechanisms early, but it might also keep them from learning key interpersonal skills in the same way that handing a kid a calculator keeps them from learning math.
In any case, the one key part of the article which made me decide that I wouldn't give a 5-year-old a tablet was this detail:
While she can’t read yet, there’s still plenty of trouble she can get into online. It’s not all photos of rainbows and dancing cats out there, after all.
She's too young, in my opinion.
If you get a tablet for a kid, the one thing you'll want to do is set it up so they can read on it. You'll want to control what they can access, but you'll want them to have the option of reading even when all other activities are blocked.
Sure, there are apps which can teach how to read, and you can set up a Kindle app to read a book aloud, but I am concerned that the latter would be harmful to a child's reading skills similar to the way that a calculator harms a kid's math skills. And I don't know enough about early learning apps to recommend one of the ones which teach kids how to read.
So in this case I think the 5-year-old is too young for her own tablet.
What do you think?