That worries some educators and child-development experts who view the flood of baby and toddler apps with trepidation. They warn that children already spend too much time in front of TVs, DVD players and computers.
For children 2 or younger, all those screens can have a negative effect on development, according to a recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you really want to help boost brain power, the best solutions can be found with unstructured play, the academy said.
“Kids need laps, not apps,” said Frederick Zimmerman, an expert on media and child health and the chairman of the Department of Health Service at UCLA.
Some harried parents say they rely on the devices to prevent their child from melting down in a restaurant or an airplane or a long line at the grocery. One in five parents uses a smartphone or tablet to keep children distracted while running errands, according to Common Sense Media, a child safety advocacy group.
For Paula Mansour of Falls Church, allowing her 2-year-old, Maggie, to play a few rounds of Angry Birds as she prepares dinner helps her keep the household running smoothly and stress-free.
She monitors Maggie’s smartphone time — and that of her 6-year-old sister, Kayla — and does not see the harm in short sessions on her Samsung Galaxy a few times a day.
Aside from Angry Birds, Maggie plays with Kids Doodle and ABC Views — apps that promise to help children get an early start with preschool skills. “She’s learning and having fun,” Mansour said. “I don’t see any harm in that.”
Just about every category of learning is covered in Apple’s and Google’s app stores. Get your toddlers to trace letters with their fingers on one of dozens of apps aimed at budding writers. Baby Sign Language teaches infants the signs for cow, foods and other objects. Math Ninja offers drills on multiplication and division.
Want to read “Humpty Dumpty” to your newborn? The Nursery Rhyme app will do that for you. BabyPlayFace has been featured in Apple’s iTunes store, with 250,000 downloads. It teaches infants first words in different languages through animated baby faces.
Apple and Google tout their mobile devices as revolutionary tools for learning and fun — and helpful distractions for the modern parent. They promote Angry Birds and Cut the Rope as children’s games that consistently rank among the most popular apps.
“Every parent could use a hand. Keep up with your kids or just keep them busy with family-friendly iPhone apps,” Apple pitches to users on its iTunes store. Apple rates apps with a minimum age of 4. Apps on Google’s Android system do not have an age minimum.