Babies and smart phones

HumptyCarKeysIn some circles smart phones are the new car keys. They are fascinating distractions handed to babies and toddlers while parents finish a sentence, wait on a queue, click children into car seats.

Recent media coverage has brought attention to children under one year of age using smart phones and tablets. It highlights how quickly even the youngest child acquires an unexpected skill. Now they can crawl, talk and swipe before parents are ready.

Educators and parents are right to wonder what is best and to be cautious. Yet smart phones and other mobile devices are everywhere. As Melbourne educator and technology expert, Dan Donahoo, recently told ECA ‘that horse has bolted’. While researchers tend to recommend no screens for children under two years, technology and how families use it are racing ahead.

No-one suggests leaving babies unsupervised with apps, smart phones or tablets. Nor should they use them for extended periods. However babies and toddlers see these devices constantly in the hands of adults and older children and they want to be part of it. Parents are sometimes unsure how to respond.

How to be ready

  • Babies and toddlers need parents and educators to steer and stay involved. Adults need to understand what smart phones and mobile devices can do. They need information on using them and when not to use them with children.
  • Not all screens are equal. Is a short time handling a small screen that offers challenges, interaction and movement the same as a longer, passive time in front of a big screen? Larger screens are more visible and make it is easier for adults to calculate ‘time spent’. As it is likely that very young children will interact with a smart phone or tablet at some time, adults can ensure it is a short burst of time—no extended sessions—interspersed with lots of physical play, interaction and talk.
  • Adults can familiarise themselves with the security settings on smart phones and tablets to ensure young children cannot access adult material. This also safeguards personal and business information from little swipers.
  • Instead of reducing ‘talk time’ between adults and toddlers, mobile devices can be just another part of a ‘whole world’ experience of sharing and learning together.
  • Seek bright, educational apps, images or books. Simple photographs offamily and friends, favourite places, animals and play items can trigger exchanges between adults and babies about the world. Even aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends can download a few for interaction and for emergency distraction, not for electronic baby-sitting.

More on this theme in future blog posts and in ECA’s Digital Business Kit, launching soon. In the meantime tell us what you think at

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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