A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a piece on toddlers and iPhones, which fairly successfully plagued every toddler parent in America with a half-ton of guilt. Here we all were using our iPhones to engage our children during long car rides, trips to restaurants and doctor’s offices, and even occasionally at home. There are hundreds of apps on the iPhone designed for toddlers, self-reading books, educational materials, flash cards, YouTube videos, and a few interactive games perfect for the three-year-old mind. We felt OK about it, reasoning that our kids were learning how to read and how to use an iPhone, something none of us could have imagined understanding at that age. It’s cool, right?
Then the Times piece came out, and they shat all over us:
“Any parent who thinks a spelling program is educational for that age is missing the whole idea of how the preschool brain grows. What children need at that age is whole body movement, the manipulation of lots of objects and not some opaque technology. You’re not learning to read by lining up the letters in the word ‘cat.’ You’re learning to read by understanding language, by listening. Here’s the parent busily doing something and the kid is playing with the electronic device. Where is the language? There is none.”
You can only imagine how liberal, NPR-listening, Trader Joe’s shopping gentrified white folks felt after being scolded by one of our favorite publications. It didn’t stop us from pulling out the iPhone when the need arose, but now we felt shame. What? You mean the Sesame Street “Count” app isn’t teaching my son how to count? Fuck you, New York Times. What am I supposed to do now with my fussy child? Don’t make me parent. Damn you!
Thankfully, Sesame Street — who I suppose has some self-interest involved here — came out with a song called “There’s An App For That,” which once again suggests that the iPhone is a perfectly acceptable way to entertain our children. After all, the Children’s Television Workshop — who shares in some of the same funding pool as NPR — would never lie to us, right? We’re simply preparing them for a future built around opaque technology. It’s in their best interests, right?